Thursday, September 29, 2011

Key Win for Alabama Immigrant Law

A federal judge Wednesday greenlighted key parts of an Alabama law aimed at curbing illegal immigration, rejecting the federal government's request to block them and strengthening the likelihood that the Supreme Court ultimately will decide whether states can pass their own immigration laws.

The Alabama law, widely seen as the nation's toughest, could embolden other states weighing stiff measures to stop illegal immigration after federal courts curbed such laws in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia in recent months. The federal government argues immigration is a federal matter.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn in the Northern District of Alabama upheld a contentious provision requiring police in Alabama "to make a reasonable attempt" to determine the immigration status of any individual they stop if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally.

Wednesday's ruling also upheld a requirement that public schools determine if students were born outside the U.S. or are children of immigrants that are in the country illegally. Judge Blackburn upheld a section of HB56, as the law is known, making it a felony for an illegal immigrant to enter into a "business transaction" with the state of Alabama, among other provisions.

But Judge Blackburn enjoined other sections of the law in a 115-page ruling issued one day before a temporary injunction was set to expire, saying "there is a substantial likelihood" that the Justice Department can prove they are pre-empted by federal law. For example, she blocked clauses that would make it a misdemeanor crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for work and that make it unlawful for anyone to transport an illegal resident. For now, Alabama authorities also won't be able to pursue civil cases against employers that fail to hire U.S. citizens while hiring or retaining illegal immigrants, among other measures.

In a statement, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called the ruling a victory for his state, adding that it has had to enforce immigration laws because the federal government isn't doing so. The Republican governor said the legal "fight is just beginning" and that he remained committed to seeing the law fully implemented.

The Justice Department said it was reviewing Wednesday's decision before deciding on its next steps. It added it will continue to evaluate state immigration laws and "not hesitate" to sue states for policies that interfere with federal immigration law.

Legal scholars said the judge's ruling was contradictory and pointed to the need for a uniform federal standard rather than a patchwork of state lawson immigration.

"Judge Blackburn seems to believe it's not a crime for an undocumented immigrant to solicit work but it is a crime for an undocumented person to do business with the state," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration scholar at Cornell University Law School. "The Supreme Court needs to decide this issue once and for all."

Arizona was the first state to pass a law to rein in illegal immigration, in April 2010. The law isn't entirely in effect. Among other provisions, a federal judge blocked one that would require police to check the immigration status of those they stop if they suspect they are in the country illegally. Arizona has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Alabama, Judge Blackburn slapped a temporary injunction on HB56 in August, after it was signed into law by Mr. Bentley in June.

The Justice Department filed suit in federal court in Birmingham last month, arguing the state law usurped federal jurisdiction over immigration. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil-rights groups also filed suits to block the legislation, which they say promotes discrimination and harassment. Agribusiness and construction groups have warned the law would create a labor shortage and hurt the state's economy.

Supporters of the Alabama legislation said it would open more jobs to legal residents by driving illegal immigrants from the state, while cutting the state's medical and education costs. They also say the federal government hasn't done enough to stop illegal immigration.

Alabama's undocumented population, mostly from Latin America, totaled about 120,000 last year, up from 25,000 a decade earlier, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group. The center also estimates illegal immigrants account for about 2.5% of the state's population, compared with 4.4% in Georgia and 6% in Arizona.

Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center said civil-rights groups would appeal the decision, saying that the Alabama law amounted to requiring "local police, and even school teachers, to become de facto immigration agents."


Asylum seekers from Arab spring pour into Europe

Refugees from war and revolution in the Arab world have begun to pour into Europe, according to research. A count covering the first three months of this year – the months that saw the outbreak of the Arab Spring – showed that number of Tunisian asylum seekers rose more than 20-fold after their country became the first to be engulfed in the chain of uprisings.

The influx raised fears that Britain faces a fresh asylum boom as tens of thousands of individuals and families try to flee other countries convulsed by violent upheavals.

The figures, compiled by the EU’s statistical arm, showed that last year Tunisian asylum seekers were arriving at the rate of just 50 a month.

The EU report said: ‘Tunisians are now ranked eight among the main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers. ‘Nine out of 10 of Tunisians applying for asylum in the EU lodged their application in Italy, which highlights the importance of geographical proximity as one of the potential factors influencing the choice of the destination country for asylum seekers.

‘Among other such factors are the social and economic situation, the presence of certain ethnic communities, immigration policy in the country of destination, language or historical ties, or the activities of people traffickers.’

The EU analysis points to Britain as a future destination country for Libyan asylum seekers, because of extensive Libyan economic and family contacts in Britain.

In particular Libya has close ties with Britain and many affected by its civil war may try to take refuge here. Others still may try to take advantage of the war to claim asylum in Britain when really they are economic migrants looking to live and work in this country.

However numbers shot up following the toppling of President Ben Ali, in January. In February 1,100 Tunisian asylum seekers arrived in Europe, followed by 1,200 in March.

The influx contributed to a 6.5 per cent increase in asylum seekers arriving in Europe in the first three months of the year, up by 4,000 to 66,000. The study also indicates Britain as a destination for Libyan asylum seekers because of extensive economic and family contacts.

Would-be asylum seekers from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya who entered Europe through Italy or other countries have been reported gathering in Calais to try to cross the Channel. Taxpayer-supported charities have been used to issue warnings to them against the dangers of trying to gain a passage by hiding in lorries.

Foreign Secretary William Hague warned earlier this summer: ‘It also means we need proper controls and we have to be tough about this. ‘We can’t just accept a flow of hundreds of thousands or millions of people into southern Europe and then coming beyond that.

'Clearly, European nations are not able to accommodate those numbers, and so we do have to respond imaginatively for the future, for the economic wellbeing of north Africa so that people can have livelihoods where they are.’

Sir Andrew Green of the Migrationwatch think tank said: ‘This points to the need to be alert to the possibility that there could be a significant flow of economic migrants and asylum seekers to Britain as a result of events in North Africa.’


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