Alabama Senate Plans Changes to Nation's Strictest Immigration Law

The Alabama Senate plans to modify the state's immigration enforcement law --considered the strictest in the nation-- in a nod to concerns raised by business groups and political leaders about the measure.

The state Senate leadership plans to address changes on Tuesday.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Senate will take up a House-passed bill to revise the immigration law rather than one being pushed by Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale.

Marsh said the House-passed bill has had input from lots of groups and legislators and had always been the one the leadership plan to pursue.

Marsh predicted the Senate Judiciary Committee will approve Rep. Micky Hammon's bill on Wednesday, which will put it in line for Senate debate on Tuesday. He said the Senate may incorporate some of Beason's ideas into Hammon's bill.

Opponents complained that the Republican leadership is rushing through the bill without proper study, but Marsh said the legislative session is nearing an end.

The Senate Job Creation and Economic Development Committee voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve Beason's bill, which makes fewer changes in the law than the bill Republican Hammon of Decatur got passed in the House on April 19.

Hammon and Beason sponsored the law that the Legislature enacted in June 2011, but they are taking different approaches to modifying it to address concerns raised by business groups and government officials.

Beason's bill doesn't change the section of the law that allows police officers to demand proof of citizenship during a traffic stop if they have reasonable suspicion of illegal immigration. Hammon restricts it to cases where an arrest occurs or ticket is issued. Beason said that part of Alabama's law matches Arizona's law, and it shouldn't be changed until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Arizona's law.

Hammon's bill takes out a requirement for schools to check the residency status of new students, which has been put on hold by a federal court. Beason's bill leaves that section in the law.

Beason said he didn't want to make major changes while a legal challenge of Alabama's law is pending at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta because the judges could rule that the law has been changed so much that the legal challenge must go back to a lower court to start over.

"If it got sent back down, we could go years without an anti-illegal immigration law," Beason said.

Both bills add a military ID to the acceptable forms of identification to prove legal residency. Beason's bill also clarifies a portion of the bill that requires proof of residency when conducting a business transaction with state, county and city government.

Beason's bill said identification is only needed for government-issued licenses and isn't necessary for ordinary transactions, such as signing up for water service or buying a ticket at a city civic center.

Democratic Sen. Linda Coleman of Birmingham, who cast the lone nay vote, said, "I don't think this bill fixes anything."

Immigrants concerned about the 2011 law overflowed the committee's tiny meeting room, which only seats about 20 spectators.

Raul Jiménez, a Mexican immigrant who does construction work in Clanton, said he has been saving money to open a restaurant, but the law makes him feel unwelcome in Alabama. He said the Legislature should repeal the law rather than approving Beason's or Hammon's changes.

"We want to help the economy in this beautiful state, but this law doesn't let us," he said.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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