BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday again refused to halt Alabama’s tough new anti-illegal immigration law, leaving in place for now measures that are prompting some Hispanics to flee the state.
District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on September 28 backed the law authorizing police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.
The judge also upheld a provision that permits the state to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children.
Blackburn said in a ruling on Wednesday that the law’s challengers, including President Barack Obama’s administration and civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups, had not shown they were likely to prevail in their efforts to get the law struck down.
She also found the public interest would not be harmed by letting the measure stand while the groups appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
“Alabama has an interest in enforcing laws properly enacted by its Legislature and not likely to be found unconstitutional,” the judge wrote. “Moreover, the public has an interest in having properly enacted valid laws enforced.”
The Alabama law passed both chambers of the Republican-led legislature by large margins earlier this year, with lawmakers saying Obama administration had not done enough to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.
Federal judges in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana previously have blocked parts of similar state laws aimed at trying to stem illegal immigration.
Republican state Representative Becky Nordgren, a co-sponsor of the Alabama bill, said she was pleased with Blackburn’s latest ruling and excited to implement key elements of the law.
“This is something that my constituents have been wanting for good long time,” said Nordgren, who noted that the Crossville school system in her district has a large percentage of illegal immigrants.
In a statement, the civil rights coalition said on Wednesday it would file an emergency request with the appellate court to keep the disputed provisions from taking effect during the pending appeal.
Blackburn also allowed Alabama to bar illegal immigrants from commercial contracts with state or local governments, applying for or renewing drivers’ licenses and identification cards or seeking license plates.
The judge temporarily prevented the state from making it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant or prohibit illegal immigrants from attending its public colleges.
Those victories are small comfort to the law’s opponents, who say many immigrants have kept their children out of schools or fled the state since the bulk of the law took effect last week.
Malissa Valdes, spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education, said recorded absences for Hispanic students in public schools on Monday totaled 2,285, representing nearly 7 percent of the 34,670 enrolled.
That number had jumped from the 1,172 Hispanic student absences recorded on September 28, she said.
Pamela Long, an associate professor at Auburn University’s Montgomery campus and a lay pastor for Hispanic ministry in the Episcopal Church, on Wednesday attended a birthday party for two children whose parents “are packing up to leave the state.”
Long said the parents are property and business owners, but do not have legal resident status and won’t be able to get their business license renewed under Alabama’s new law.
“In this atmosphere of hostility, they just feel that Alabama is not a good place to raise their children,” she said. “I‘m very sad about that.”
Additional reporting by Verna Gates and Kelli Dugan; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune