Bowden: Still verifying citizenship

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Guidance” issued by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange on enforcing Alabama’s immigration law is not changing the way the Covington County Probate Office is handling business.

The law makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to enter into contracts with government agencies, which includes purchasing car tags and other licenses. To comply with the law, the local probate office – and those around the state – is requiring residents to provide proof of residency before purchasing or renewing a tag.

But Attorney General Luther Strange issued guidance last week saying that only the federal government, not county workers, could verify immigration status.

Probate Judge Ben Bowden said he’s not seen an anything from the Attorney General’s Office that would make him change the way his office is doing business.

“I am following Alabama law until such time as some competent authority directs me otherwise,” Bowden said. “I have not seen an AG opinion instructing otherwise. If there is one, I would examine it to see if I agree with his interpretation of the law.”

Bowden said the office did receive an order from Federal District Court Judge Thompson directing them to stop implementation of the law as it relates to manufactured homes, which they are following “at this time.”

“We will attempt to verify immigration status with the federal government as the need arises,” he said in regards to other transactions. “If federal agencies refuse to assist us, then we will allow the customer to proceed with his or her transaction.

“I strongly believe it is my duty to follow Alabama law as I interpret it,” he said. “The law requires proof of lawful presence to conduct ‘business transactions’ with the probate office, and I intentdto enforce the law until I am satisfied it no longer applies.”

On Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley and other legislators said change is coming to the state’s immigration law, and that they will consider revising it to make sure the law can be enforced and “reflects the hospitable nature of Alabamians.”

Bentley issued a joint statement with Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, saying a bill will be drafted for the 2012 session. While the bill will make some changes to the law, the Republicans said the essence of the law will not change.

“We aren’t going to repeal Alabama’s illegal immigration law,” Bentley said.

He said the bill’s purpose is to clarify and simplify the current immigration law “to ensure that everyone working in Alabama is doing so legally, that law enforcement officers have the clarity, the flexibility and the tools they need to enforce immigration laws, that faith-based, medical and humanitarian services are protected, and that unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses are eliminated.”

The governor and legislators did not list in their statement the specific changes that will be sought.