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Immigration law: court upholds key parts of tough Alabama law

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In her ruling, Judge Blackburn also upheld a requirement that Alabama public schools check the immigration status of students. She blocked other parts of the law, including the prohibitions against illegal immigrants applying for work or penalties for knowingly concealing, harboring, or transporting illegal immigrants in the state.

“It would be impossible to call it a victory for either side,” says Paul Horowitz, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alabama’s law school in Tuscaloosa. The overall ruling shows that “the state can parallel federal law but can’t innovate immigration law.”

For law enforcement, however, the ruling was a defeat.

Police authorities say the law’s wording makes them ripe for lawsuits. As written, the law allows police officers to act on “reasonable suspicion” and require people to produce proof of legal residency. The law also allows people to sue law-enforcement agencies if they feel the agencies aren't doing what the law requires.

The problem is that no database exists that could easily, or even adequately, verify the numerous documents that show legal status, from work visas to border crossing cards to birth certificates. That makes the law virtually unenforceable, says Professor DeSipio.

“It just doesn’t work,” he says. “A database can have a lot of false positives. In a workplace, that’s not a problem because the employer can give a person a certain amount of time to correct the problem. But parked on the side of a highway in Alabama, there’s not much you can do.”

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