MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A federal judge in Montgomery has stopped state officials from using Alabama's tough new immigration law to prevent immigrants from renewing required permits on manufactured homes.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday evening that allows Alabama residents to renew registration of manufactured homes without requiring that they prove that they are in the country legally. The deadline for renewing the registration without being fined is Nov. 30.
Attorneys for a coalition of civil rights groups said earlier that by refusing to renew the permits, state officials could force people to abandon their homes.
Thompson granted the order because he said plaintiffs had "a substantial" likelihood of proving their case. He also said in his order that state officials had not set up a proper way for manufactured home owners to prove they are legal U.S. residents.
Thompson ordered Alabama Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee to inform officials in all 67 Alabama counties that they are not to withhold the permits from immigrants. He made the ruling several hours after holding a hearing in which a coalition of civil rights attorneys argued withholding the permits was part of a plan to run immigrants out of the state.
The law has been described by critics and supporters as the toughest crackdown on illegal immigrants in the country.
In his ruling Thompson said validating legal immigration status is a federal function and state officials have taken no steps to use one of several federal programs to determine the status of manufactured home recipients.
The House and Senate sponsors of the immigration bill, approved by the Legislature earlier this year, both testified Wednesday a purpose of their legislation was to encourage illegal immigrants to leave the state.
"My purpose was to make it difficult for illegal immigrants to live and work in Alabama," said the House sponsor, Republican Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur. The wide ranging law effects many daily facets of life for immigrants, including allowing police to detain people they suspect of being an illegal immigrant and making it illegal to employ illegal aliens.
The Senate sponsor, Sen. Scott Beason, a Republican from Gardendale, said he believes illegal immigrants take the jobs that should go to "legal Alabama taxpayers." He also said he believes they bring diseases such as tuberculosis into the U.S.
Mary Bauer, attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, asked Beason if the purpose of the law "is to force people to leave."
"The purpose is reduce the number of illegal aliens in this state," Beason said.
Hammon and Beason testified Wednesday during a federal court hearing in Montgomery. Two Elmore County immigrants are challenging a section of the law that prohibits most contracts where one party is an illegal immigrant. Civil rights groups criticize the law on several points, including that it forces immigrants to leave Alabama.
Magee, the Alabama revenue commissioner, testified that the new law requires county employees to check the immigration status on anyone who does business with the state. She said state officials have provided counties with a list of documents, including a driver's license, acceptable to prove citizenship.
But Karen Tumlin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, told Thompson the bill specifies that immigration status must be confirmed by federal authorities. She argued the state doesn't have a system in place to determine if people renewing manufactured home permits are legal or not.
Assistant Attorney General Jim Davis argued that attorneys for the plaintiffs did not prove that the new law violates the rights of immigrant manufactured home owners.
A Senate co-sponsor of the bill, Clay Scofield of Guntersville, testified he believes illegal immigrants have brought organized criminal activity into the northeast section of Alabama he represents. He said that activity includes prostitution and storing illegal weapons.
He said that was part of what motivated him to help pass the new law.
"I wanted to take away any incentive for illegal immigrants to be here," Scofied said.
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