Alabama AG Calls for Changes to State Immigration Law

In the wake of growing criticism of Alabama's new immigration law business leaders, religious leaders and and the federal government, the man who would be charged with defending the law in the courts,  Alabama's attorney general Luther Strange, is suggesting that state lawmakers need to repeal some portions of the statute that have been put on hold by federal courts and to clarify others.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Strange argued that the proposed changes would make the law easier to defend in court and would "remove burdens on law-abiding citizens."

Strange recommended repealing a section that makes it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to fail to carry registration documents. That section has been put on hold temporarily by a federal court. Strange said it "adds little in terms of enforcement" because federal law already makes it a crime and repealing it would allow police "to focus on more important aspects of the law."

He also suggested repealing the requirement that public schools collect information on the immigration status of students. That section is also on hold.

The private letter, acquired by The Associated Press, represents the first time the attorney general has expressed concerns since he started defending the law against a federal court challenge filed by about 30 organizations and individuals. In so doing, Attorney General Strange has become the highest ranking Republican official to call for throwing out portions of the law.

In reaction to his letter, legislative leaders disclosed they are working with business leaders on possible changes to keep Alabama business-friendly.

Todd Stacy , a spokesmen for House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said, "Lawmakers are right now working with industry leaders to see what updates might be necessary to maintaining what is arguably the most business-friendly environment anywhere in America."

The letter comes days after a Japanese man working at Honda's car factory in east Alabama became the second foreign auto worker charged under the state's controversial immigration law.

The employee at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County received a ticket but wasn't taken into custody, unlike a Mercedes-Benz manager who was previously arrested in Tuscaloosa.

It wasn't clear where the Honda worker was stopped. But a person with knowledge of the case said the man was ticketed at a routine roadblock set up by police even though he had a valid Japanese passport and an international driver's license. The person wasn't authorized to release the information and asked not to be identified.

The company said in a statement it was aware one of its workers was ticketed under the immigration law.

A German manager with Mercedes-Benz was arrested under the law for not having a driver's license with him while driving a rental car. Tuscaloosa city attorney Tim Nunnally said that charge was dismissed after the man later provided the documents in municipal court.

The law is considered by both opponents and supporters as the toughest in the U.S. against undocumented immigrants.

His letter was written in response to requests from legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who had said the Legislature would only consider changes recommended by the attorney general.

Strange said his recommendations were based only on the legal challenge to the law and on efforts to make the law clearer, but did not address policy decisions by the Legislature. "The legislative leadership asked for our opinion and we provided it," he said in an e-mail.

Strange also suggested repealing two portions of the law that allow citizens to sue public officials to compel them to enforce the new law. The state's chief law officer said those sections conflict with state constitutional provisions.

"Law enforcement and district attorneys throughout the state are concerned about being sued by citizens despite their best efforts to enforce the law," Strange said.

A leading business organization in Alabama's largest urban area called for revisions Tuesday, saying it was concerned that the law taints Alabama's image around the world. The Birmingham Business Alliance said complying with the law is a burden for businesses and local governments.

"Revisions to our current law are needed to ensure that momentum remains strong in our competitive economic development efforts," said James T. McManus, chairman of the alliance and CEO of Energen Corp.

The group did not offer specific changes. The alliance voiced its opinion one day after Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he is concerned the law might be affecting industrial recruitment. Bentley also said Monday the law needs simplifying, but it shouldn't be repealed.

An opponent of the law, Democratic Sen. Billy Beasley of Clayton, said revisions are not enough, and he will push ahead with legislation to repeal it in the legislative session starting Feb. 7.

"I don't feel that the senators who voted for it realized the fallout there would be and the effect of the law," he told reporters Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, state agriculture officials met with farmers in southwest Alabama to discuss their concerns that the law has driven off the laborers they will need to plant their crops in the spring. Officials discussed the possibility of using prison inmates to fill any farm labor shortages.

One of the attorneys challenging the law, Karen Tumlin of the Immigration Law Center, said officials are beginning to see the "devastating" impact the law is having on the state.

This article is based on the Associated Press. Associated Press writers Bob Johnson in Montgomery and Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.

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