Stay comes as surprise

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Local government officials said a Monday decision to temporarily halt Alabama’s law targeting illegal immigration came as a surprise.

Opponents of the measure – who included state church leaders, the U.S. Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union – had asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn to stop the law, which was scheduled to go into effect Thursday.

In a two page order, the judge said there was not enough time before Sept. 1 to address all the legal arguments from various parties over the law’s constitutionality.

The law requires that police “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country,” according to a state House of Representatives fact sheet. The law also includes more expansive measures, including requiring the state to check immigration status of students in public schools.

Constitutionality of the measure aside, local officials had expressed concerns about the practicality of enforcing the law.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks said the measure means an increased workload for deputies and additional costs to house those arrested under the new law.

“Right now, we don’t know what that law is going to do or where it’s going to go,” Meeks said. “At this point, there’s not a lot that I can see that we, as a department, are going to do differently. If it went into effect Thursday, just as it’s written, it would put a lot of extra work on deputies, because every person we see that meets that definition, we’d have to check. That means more folks in jail. There’s that added cost.

“Then, there’s the need for more manpower, that’s not there to start with,” he said. “I don’t think that when this law was passed, it was truly realized the effect it would have on local jails and local law enforcement.”

Another caveat of the law is that an illegal alien or someone not lawfully present in the U.S. is not allowed to enter into a business transaction with the state or a political subdivision of the state – which means the county or a municipality or any level of government. It also goes one step further and defines a business transaction to include vehicle registration, license and tag renewals and the purchasing of a business license.

County Probate Judge Ben Bowden said previously his office would require identification, such as an Alabama driver’s license or immigration papers, be presented when registering a new vehicle or renewing a tag purchase beginning Sept. 1.

“The delay is a surprise,” he said. “I thought the court would issue a ruling one way or the other, but we are going to continue to operate under our normal procedures until the injunction is lifted or until the court issues its ruling.”

Blackburn’s injunction will remain in place until Sept. 29; however, further appeals to higher federal courts could prevent the law from going into effect for months, even years.