A hard-line illegal immigration bill that had languished in the Alabama legislature for seven years has crossed a threshhold -- the state House overwhelmingly passed the Arizona-style measure Tuesday.
The bill, largely opposed by Democrats and supported by Republicans, allows police to arrest anyone who can't prove they are in the United States legally.
The House voted 73-28 to pass the immigration bill after almost six hours of debate.
The bill would also cause employers to lose business licenses if they knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
The sponsor, Republican Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur, has been pushing the bill for seven years, but in the past it was mostly ignored by the Legislature's Democratic leaders. Republicans won a majority in the Legislature last year and made immigration legislation a priority.
"This bill is designed to make it difficult for illegal immigrants to live in Alabama. They will not stay in Alabama if this bill passes," Hammon said.
Another supporter of the bill, Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Alabaster, said illegal immigration is a huge issue in his district on Sand Mountain in north Alabama.
"I realize God loves Hispanics as much as he loves me," Rich said. But he said the influx of immigrants in his area has crowded schools and strained local governments.
Hammon said the bill will make more jobs available for legal citizens, but Democrats argued it would be costly to enforce and would encourage racial profiling. Hammon argued that law enforcement officers would be trained on how to enforce the law without racial profiling.
Democratic Rep. Marcel Black, a lawyer from Tuscumbia, wondered if that would be possible and told Hammon the bill was a dangerous step down the road toward requiring people to carry a national Identification card.
"Can you prove to me you are an American citizen right now as we are standing here," Black asked Hammon.
"I have a driver's license," Hammon answered.
Hammon spent more than an hour fending off most attempts to amend the bill.
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.