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Hundreds of advocates for immigrants who gathered outside Alabama's state Capitol are calling for the repeal of a controversial law that they say harkens back to the state's segregationist past.
Protesters on Saturday waved signs saying "One Family One Alabama" on the statehouse grounds before marching to the governor's mansion.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the immigration law and GOP Gov. Robert Bentley signed it this year with the goal of scaring off undocumented immigrants. Supporters said it would open up jobs for legal residents in a state suffering from nearly 10 percent unemployment at the time.
Parts of the law took effect in late September amid court challenges, but other parts were blocked by federal courts after lawsuits by the Obama administration, immigrant rights groups, religious organizations and others.
"This has been a battleground against racism and another chapter in that ongoing fight in this community," Julia Murguía, the President of Consejo Nacional de La Raza, said.
"It has destroyed lives and separated families." Mary Bauer, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It has pushed Alabama back 20 years."
The protest comes as the Supreme Court has agreed to rule on Arizona's controversial immigration law, setting up three politically charged cases -the health care overhaul and a fight over Texas redistricting maps- on its election-year calendar.
The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked several tough provisions in the Arizona law. One of those requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect the person is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law by arguing that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states. Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing administration lawsuits.
Gov. Bentley said earlier this month that he and his legislative allies are ready to consider changes to the state's harsh imigration law, but will not alter the essence of the measure.
"The leadership of the Alabama House and Senate and I are working together to develop a bill for consideration at the beginning of the next legislative session. The bill's purpose is to clarify and simplify the current immigration law," the Republican governor said in a statement.
Bentley said he wants to see an enforceable law that "reflects the hospitable nature of Alabamians."
HB 56, which criminalizes the presence of undocumented immigrants in Alabama, has provoked multiple lawsuits by the Justice Department and various organizations and is already having a negative impact on the state's economy.
The governor said Alabama enacted the measure because the federal government failed in its responsibility to enforce U.S. immigration laws.
"We recognize that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice," Bentley said.
The speaker of the lower house of the Alabama legislature, Republican Mike Hubbard, emphasized that the body "isn't going to repeal or weaken this law."
The announcement from the governor and legislative leaders comes amid mounting evidence of the confusion HB 56 is causing, as citizens and legal permanent residents find themselves being detained on suspicion they are in the country illegally.
Thousands of immigrants have fled the state, leaving many Alabama businesses without customers or employees, especially in the agriculture and service sectors.
Aware of the negative attention generated by HB 56, Gov. Bentley said he was "reaching out internationally to reassure our global partners that the business climate in Alabama is as strong as ever, and our people and communities are as inviting and welcoming as we've always been."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press. Contains reporting by EFE as well.