On Wednesday, Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the Federal District Court in Birmingham, Alabama upheld most sections of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigration law. The decision is the most supportive of the law to come out of a federal court yet.
The decision also makes it extremely likely that immigration reform will join health care reform as political battles that get decided by the Supreme Court.
Blackburn blocked several key parts of the law, but let stand some of the most controversial provisions, including those that grant law enforcement officers unprecedented power to act as immigration agents.
Of the provisions blocked include one that would have made it illegal for undocumented immigrants and other non-citizens from enrolling in Alabama public colleges and universities and one that criminalized undocumented immigrants’ attempts to look for and get a job. Several of the provisions that targeted day laborers, including those that would criminalize transporting an undocumented person were also blocked.
But Blackburn let stand a provision that forces K-12 schools to track the immigration statuses of their students and a provision that renders unenforceable any contract that an undocumented immigrant enters into. Finally, Blackburn refused to enjoin provisions that grant law enforcement the power to question and detain anyone who they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe may be undocumented.
Blackburn’s entire argument is grounded in a state’s rights approach. If Congress failed to specifically deal with an area of immigration law–such as the enforceability of contracts–then states should have the power to make those laws themselves. Those provisions enjoined were those she believed Congress had dealt with specifically.
Alabama is the fifth state to enact a law modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, but the only one to have key provisions upheld. So far judges in Utah, Indiana and Georgia have had similar provisions blocked while the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court’s injunction of that law.
This comes as the Obama administration announced it was stepping up its crackdown on these kinds of anti-immigrant laws. Justice Department attorneys are reportedly considering legal challenges in Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina as they try to get Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform.
But Republicans may have other motives for blocking immigration reform. These laws, and the crackdowns that follow, have been a boon for the private prison industry. Private prison companies control half of the detention beds in the United States, and with detentions and deportations swelling under the new criminalization, business is too good for Republicans to support humane immigration reform.
Photo from steakpinball via flickr.