Alabama Concedes Immigration Law Limits in Settling Suits

Alabama’s government, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, told a federal trial court the state’s laws don’t authorize police to detain or arrest people for the purpose of learning their immigration status.

The concession came in a joint filing yesterday by lawyers for the state and civil-rights groups that sued it. The two sides asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn in Birmingham to enter a final order closing out a 2011 lawsuit.

Groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union sought to block legislation making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to not carry registration papers and forcing schools to determine students’ legal status as they enroll. The U.S. also sued, accusing the state of infringing federal supremacy over immigration policy.

“We have a duty to follow the law as set forth by the courts,” state Attorney General Luther Strange, a Republican, said yesterday in a statement. “The filings made today inform the trial court of which claims must be dismissed and which provisions of our law cannot be enforced because of the Supreme Court’s and Eleventh Circuit’s rulings.”

The state also agreed to pay the rights groups that sued $350,000 to settle their claims for attorneys fees.

Blackburn, in a 2011 decision, said the state couldn’t enforce provisions that barred undocumented people from applying for jobs or working in the state and prohibited such people from being harbored or transported.

‘Reasonable Attempt’

At the same time, she said police could make “a reasonable attempt” to learn the immigration status of a person otherwise detained or arrested when there’s a reasonable suspicion to do so.

The Supreme Court in June 2012 invalidated Arizona restrictions barring those illegally in the U.S. from seeking work or being in the state without proper identification. The justices also struck down a provision allowing police to arrest people they suspected were eligible for deportation.

In twin rulings issued two months later, an Atlanta-based federal appeals court scaled back Alabama’s similar legislation, saying states cannot pursue policies that undermine federal law.

“We conclude most of the challenged provisions cannot stand,” the panel said, ordering the requirement to carry papers enjoined in one ruling and the school enrollees’ background checks blocked in the other.

“Today’s settlement should remind legislators in both Montgomery and Washington that a person’s constitutional rights may not be legislated away,” Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center -- one of the organizations pressing the litigation -- said yesterday in a statement.

The cases are Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley, 11-cv-02484, and U.S. v. State of Alabama, 11-cv-02746, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).

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