MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Changes could be coming to Alabama's tough immigration law that has been challenged by the courts, churches and businesses.
Its author, Republican Rep. Micky Hammon, on Thursday offered revisions that he said would make the law more workable for local governments, more enforceable for police, and less burdensome for law-abiding citizens and businesses. It also addresses sections that courts have put on hold.
The wide-ranging law requires police to determine citizenship status during traffic stops and requires government offices to verify legal residency for everyday transactions like obtaining a car license, enrolling a child in school, getting a job or renewing a business license.
Gov. Robert Bentley praised Hammon's work and said, "The essence of the bill will not change: Anyone living and working in Alabama must be here legally." It would have to be approved by the legislature.
Bentley signed the law last June. Since then, the U.S. Justice Department and 30 civil rights, religious and immigrant organizations challenged it in court. In the meantime, it caused both legal and illegal immigrants to leave the state for fear of arrest and caused farmers to complain about not having enough help to pick their crops.
Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called Hammon's bill "a half-hearted response to the economic and humanitarian crisis that is gripping our state."
Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, said, "No amount of revising or tinkering made to this anti-immigrant bill can fix it. Repealing it is the only option."
"Some activist groups don't have a problem with illegal immigration and will only be happy if the law is repealed. That's not going to happen," said Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn.
Hammon's bill removes two sections put on hold by federal courts. One prohibited illegal immigrants from attending college in Alabama and another required public schools to check the legal residency of new students.
It revises a provision that allowed police to detain someone in a traffic stop if they had "reasonable suspicion" they were in the country illegal. In the future, that would only be done upon issuance of a traffic ticket or arrest.
It expands the types of identification that can be used to prove legal residency to include military IDs and Alabama driver's licenses that have been expired for less than six months.
Responding to complaints from businesses, it eliminated a provision that said renting to an illegal immigrant is the same as harboring one.
The law currently voids contracts with illegal immigrants, which raised concerns from businesses about loans and items purchased and to be paid for over time. Hammon's bill clarifies that only applies to contracts entered into after the enactment of the law.
William Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, said his group support's Hammon's bill.
"These changes, while not perfect, are a much-needed step in the right direction and will allow businesses to clearly comply with both federal and state immigration law," he said.