MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Responding to objections raised by religious leaders, law enforcement and other groups, Alabama lawmakers say they plan to propose changes to the state's immigration law within two weeks.
State legislators plan to retool the controversial crackdown on illegal immigration without overhauling the legislation. House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, the sponsor of the immigration bill passed last year, said the new bill will not make major changes and is not aimed at softening the law.
Some legislators and observers expressed surprise that Gov. Robert Bentley, who has suggested making changes to the law, did not mention immigration in his "State of the State" address Tuesday.
But after speaking at a Baptist legislative prayer luncheon the next day, the governor said he is committed to making some changes in the immigration law, which supporters and opponents have called the toughest crackdown in the country on undocumented immigrants.
"Basically I've already said what we need to say on the illegal immigration law," Bentley said.
An opponent of the immigration law, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, has pre-filed a bill to repeal it.
He admits he faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but hopes some who voted for passage last year will realize that the law is hurting the state. Beasley represents a mostly rural southeast Alabama district where farmers have complained the immigration law has stripped them of many workers they need to plant and harvest crops.
The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee took the first step toward making changes to the immigration law last week when it passed a bill that allows military identification cards to be shown for proof of citizenship when buying car tags or conducting other official business. Hammon said supporters of immigration reform had intended to include that in the original law. He said the language about military identification cards would be included in the overall bill making the changes.
The Senate sponsor of the immigration bill, Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said it didn't bother him that the governor failed to mention immigration in his speech. He said it's not unusual for legislators to have to come back in the next year and make changes to comprehensive legislation such as the immigration bill. He said the bill making the changes has not been finalized.
Parts of the immigration law, such as a requirement for schools to track the immigration status of students, have been thrown out by the courts. But Hammon said the courts have not finished reviewing the legislation and those provisions will not automatically be eliminated from the bill making the changes.
A group of about 30 immigration protesters sang songs and held candles outside the Alabama Capitol as Bentley gave his "State of the State" speech last week. The demonstrators urged lawmakers to repeal the law. Another protest is planned for Tuesday.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.