Friday, September 30, 2011

Critics of tough Alabama immigration law appeal

A coalition of civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups filed an appeal on Thursday of a federal judge's ruling that let stand much of Alabama's tough new immigration law.

The groups, along with President Barack Obama's administration and church leaders, have sought to block what is widely seen as the toughest state crackdown on illegal immigration.

Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn ruled on Wednesday that Alabama could begin requiring public schools to determine the legal residency of children.

She also gave the green light for police to detain people suspected of being in the United States illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and fellow Republican lawmakers hailed the judge's decision as a major win in their efforts to curb illegal immigration in their state. Federal judges have previously blocked key parts of other immigration laws passed in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana.

The Obama administration argues that the U.S. Constitution bars states from adopting immigration measures that conflict with federal laws.

But conservatives complain that the federal government has failed to sufficiently stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, forcing states to take action to protect their borders and jobs.

The plaintiffs group in the appeal, led by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, also filed an emergency motion on Thursday seeking to keep some disputed parts of the law from taking effect pending a review by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The latest legal challenge comes as no surprise. Supporters of the law also have vowed to continue the court fight, with the aim of getting the entire law in effect.

Blackburn temporarily barred the state from making it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant or prohibiting illegal immigrants from attending its public colleges.

"The overwhelming majority of people in this state are supportive of this law," said Republican state Representative Jim McClendon, a co-sponsor of the measure. "The opponents lost hands-down in the legislative process, so now, they're turning to the court system to see if they can find somebody who sympathizes with their position."

University of Alabama constitutional law professor Bryan Fair said he thinks opponents have a shot at getting some of the more controversial provisions of the law overturned by a higher court, specifically those involving schools and police. "I think those provisions invite racial profiling, and I think racial profiling violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment," Fair told Reuters.

Educators and law enforcement officials in the state were among those waiting for guidance on how to proceed as the court battle plays out.

"At this point we do not know if that will involve a stay of the law from going into effect before the appeal is heard," said Randy Christian, chief deputy of the Jefferson County Sheriff Department. "We also have to get some answers on how we actually enforce it and how we can do so without involving racial profiling."

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said a statewide web seminar series would be held on October 14 to help instruct farmers on how to comply with the new law.

The measure already has had an impact on the state's agribusiness, with McMillan and others telling of crops rotting in fields as a result of day laborers leaving the state ahead of the law taking effect. "This law contains many provisions with stiff fines and penalties," McMillan said in a statement. "It is critical for farmers and agribusinesses to understand fully how this law applies to them."


Obama Goes from Hope to Nope on Immigration Reform

President Obama lashed out at Republicans Wednesday, telling a Hispanic audience that the GOP is the lone barrier to comprehensive immigration reform.

But for a president who campaigned on a promise to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, that message is creating widespread disillusionment within a voting bloc crucial to Obama’s re-election.

“This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true,” Obama told a questioner who claimed the president’s “message … is not a message of hope.”

Such an exchange highlights Obama’s challenge in shoring up Hispanic support amid a record number of deportations by immigration officials and as attempts to provide a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants have fallen by the wayside.

Obama met with Hispanic journalists Wednesday just as the White House seeks to stem the tide of dissatisfaction among black and Hispanic voters. Aside from recent private meetings with leaders and media figures in the black and Hispanic communities, Obama visited a heavily Hispanic high school in Denver Tuesday to push his $450 billion jobs plan.

However, some analysts say Obama’s symbolic measures and jabs at Republicans won’t be enough to sway Hispanic voters who supported the president by a two-to-one margin in 2008. “It’s not enough for him to simply blame Republicans,” said Matt Barreto, a pollster with Latino Decisions. “He needs to point to something concrete — push some bills. There hasn’t been anything since the Dream Act.” While repeatedly touting immigration reform, Obama has yet to push any reforms through Congress, even when his fellow Democrats controlled it.

In broad terms, Obama has called for an immigration policy that would secure the borders, punish businesses for employing undocumented workers and create a mechanism for those in the country illegally to gain citizenship, a proposal critics dismiss as “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

Though Obama vowed to “push hard” for immigration reform, he said it would not happen as long as Republicans continued to block efforts such as the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to certain illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military. “We used to have Republican co-sponsors for the Dream Act,” Obama said. “Our key approach is trying to push Republicans back to where they were only a few years ago.”

A recent Gallup poll shows that Obama’s support among Hispanics over the past 18 months has plummeted from 73 percent to 48 percent. “It’s a matter of enthusiasm and energy,” Barreto said. “If that disappears, he will still get the same percentage of the Latino vote — there will just be fewer voters.”

Obama’s path to victory in swing states like Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada certainly looks hazier without the overwhelming Hispanic support he received in 2008.

Obama credited both Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush for pushing immigration reform but added, “Right now, you have not [got] that kind of leadership coming from the Republican Party.”


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