A district judge upheld Wednesday most parts of an Alabama law passed in June that is widely considered the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn had temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement in late August to consider its constitutionality.
The Huntsville Times reported that Blackburn ruled that: law enforcement would be allowed to stop and detain those suspected of lacking the necessary legal papers; public schools had to look into the citizenship status of students and their parents; and it would be a felony for undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license or business license.
The federal judge said Alabama could not prosecute “those who assist unauthorized” immigrants and blocked the part of the law that would make it a crime to harbor, conceal or transport undocumented immigrants.
The U.S. Justice Department and religious leaders had challenged separately in court the Alabama law.
Alabama’s Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist bishops jointly filed a lawsuit Aug. 1 against the law, claiming the law would result in “irreparable harm” to their church members.
“Alabama’s anti-immigration law will make it a crime to follow God’s commandment to be Good Samaritans,” said their lawsuit, pointing out that churches would “perpetrate crimes by knowingly providing food, clothing, shelter and transportation to those in need without first ensuring compliance with the stipulations” of the law.
“Hospitality is central to our faith,” said Robert Baker, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham. He said that “Jesus did not have a green card” when his parents went to Egypt, fleeing from Herod.
“The teaching of the Bible is very clear, that we should be welcoming to the stranger, that Christ welcomes all, that Jesus is present in the stranger and God loves everybody,” said Henry Parsley, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.
An attorney for Parsley said religious leaders were “delighted” that the judge ruled against the portion of the law that prohibited harboring, concealing and transporting undocumented immigrants, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Speaking from the Alabama state capitol, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said Alabama still had the “strongest immigration law in this country.”
He said he would work with the state’s attorney general to appeal portions of the law that Blackburn had struck down, according to the Birmingham News.
Earlier in the year, Bentley, a member of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, said, “I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws and I’m proud of the legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country.”
In other related immigration news in Alabama, Republican Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan told the Huntsville Times that he visited with a farmer who had 75 acres of rotting squash due to a lack of farm workers.
“It was just rotting in the fields because he had half the labor,” said McMillan. “That’s a fact. What I’m telling you is what I’ve seen.”
McMillan said farm laborers started leaving the state after the bill was signed into law. By comparison, he noted how many Hispanic construction workers he had seen after tornadoes struck the state in April.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get Tuscaloosa and Birmingham rebuilt,” said McMillan.
One of the bill’s chief sponsors, state Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), a member of First Baptist Church of Gardendale, had defended H.R. 56 as a jobs bill.
“We have a problem with an illegal workforce that displaces Alabama workers,” Beason said. “We need to put those people back to work.”