Court allows "show me your papers" laws in Alabama, Georgia

Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:39pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that Alabama and Georgia could enforce key aspects of their laws against illegal immigration that allow police to check the status of criminal suspects.

The decisions were in line with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar Arizona law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta continued to block other parts of the two Southern states' laws, which have been challenged by the federal government and civil rights groups.

Judges said the laws' opponents were likely to prevail in their fight against provisions in both states that would make it a crime in some cases to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant.

The court also barred Alabama from requiring schools to check the immigration status of children upon enrollment and from requiring all immigrants to carry a registration document at all times.

"We conclude that most of the challenged provisions cannot stand," the court said regarding the Obama administration's case against Alabama.

The rulings follow a split Supreme Court decision in June on Arizona's first-of-its-kind crackdown on people who are in the country illegally in which the court upheld a measure requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop and suspect are in the country illegally.

But the top U.S. court struck down provisions requiring immigrants to always carry immigration papers, banning illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowing police arrests of immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.

Other states that used Arizona's example in crafting immigrations laws have been waiting for rulings of their own in light of that decision.

The mixed opinions from the appeals court on Monday drew praise from both sides of the issue. The House speaker in Alabama said the court had upheld the "real teeth" of that state's law, while critics hailed the injunction against the schools provision.

"The essence of Alabama's immigration law has been upheld by today's ruling," Republican Governor Robert Bentley said in a statement. "The Court is recognizing the state's authority to inquire on immigration status in certain circumstances."

Opponents vowed to keep fighting what have been dubbed the "show me your papers" provisions, which they argue cannot be enforced without racial profiling.

"Alabamian children can now start the new school year without fear that their citizenship will be questioned, and Georgians can continue to give neighbors and friends a ride without first asking for their 'papers,'" said Marielena HincapiƩ, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Additional reporting by Greg McCune and Verna Gates; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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