A federal appeals court on Friday suspended parts of Alabama's tough immigration law while it considers the Justice Department's request to strike it down.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Alabama cannot prosecute illegal immigrants for not carrying registration documents with them at all times or require schools to check the immigration status of all students.
But the court said Alabama, among other things, can require police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they lawfully stop if they suspect they are in the country illegally. Illegal immigrants will also be prohibited from obtaining a license to drive, get a vehicle or open a business.
The Justice Department opposes Alabama's law, claiming it invites discrimination against foreign-born citizens and legal immigrants and is at odds with federal policy. But state officials say the law is necessary to protect the jobs of legal residents.
A final decision on the law won't be made for months to allow time for more arguments.
Alabama's provisions allowing officials to check the immigration status of public school students and authorities to question people suspected of being in the country illegally are what help make the Alabama law stricter than similar laws passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Other federal judges have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states.
Since a federal judge upheld much of the Alabama law in late September, many frightened Hispanics have been driven away from the state, fearing they could be arrested or targeted by police. Construction workers, landscapers and field hands have stopped showing up for work, and large numbers of Hispanic students have been absent from public schools.
To cope with the labor shortage, Alabama agriculture commissioner John McMillan at one point suggested farmers should consider hiring inmates in the state's work-release program.
It's not clear exactly how many Hispanics have fled the state. Earlier this week, many skipped work to protest the law, shuttering or scaling back operations at chicken plants, Mexican restaurants and other businesses.
Immigration has become a contentious issue in Alabama over the last 10 years as the state's Hispanic population grew by 145 percent to about 185,600. While the group still represents only about 4 percent of the population, some counties in north Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Hispanic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.