Federal judge upholds some of Alabama immigration law

In a 115-page memorandum opinion, Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld certain portions of the Alabama immigration law passed in June and challenged by the Department of Justice. She enjoined other portions out of concern for preemption by federal law. A quick run-down of the provisions upheld and enjoine

Enjoined:

  • A provision prohibiting unauthorized aliens from enrolling in a public state university.
  • A misdemeanor crime for unauthorized aliens to apply for, solicit, or perform work.
  • Provisions that make it unlawful for a person to conceal or harbor an alien, encourage them to enter the country, or transport them here.
  • Prohibition on business tax deductions for employment of unauthorized aliens.
  • A provision creating a civil cause of action against an employer who fires or fails to hire a legal person in favor of an unauthorized alien.

Provisions that were upheld:

  • A misdemeanor offense to not complete or carry an alien registration document if in the country illegally.
  • Requiring law enforcement to make a reasonable attempt to determine lawful status based on reasonable suspicion (similar to the high-profile Arizona law).
  • If arrested for driving without a license, the person must be transported to the nearest magistrate and determination of lawful status must be made.
  • A provision barring Alabama courts from enforcing contracts made with those unlawfully present.
  • A requirement for schools, K-12, to determine residency status of enrolling children.
  • Felony offense to enter into a business transaction with the state or subdivision if unlawfully present.

In short, the ruling was a mixed-bag for Alabama. Perhaps the best description of the decision comes from law professor Paul Horowitz at the University of Alabama, who said that the decision means a “state can parallel federal law but can’t innovate immigration law.” 

I’m not sure it is an “innovation” of federal immigration law to make it a crime to work in this country when you aren’t even supposed to be here, or that it is innovative to say you can’t help someone else commit a crime (such as entering the country illegally). That being said, the judge’s opinion is likely to be appealed by both sides.

A petition for certiorari in Arizona v. United States, a challenge to Arizona’s similar immigration law, S.B. 1070, is pending before the Supreme Court. While the decision of one federal district judge is unlikely to impact the Court’s consideration of that issue, it could lead to a circuit split in which the 11th Circuit and the 9th Circuit disagree on key issues of federal preemption of immigration law and state authority to enforce that law.

What is clear is that states are unhappy with federal enforcement of immigration law and are looking to protect their own citizens from the effects of illegal immigration. With Arizona’s victory in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting this past term in the Supreme Court, the battle lines over immigration law are becoming well-defined with every new case.

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