BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Dec 9 (Reuters) - Alabama's governor said
on Friday he would work to revise the state's tough new
immigration law following embarrassing incidents where foreign
workers were detained because they were not carrying sufficient
Republican Governor Robert Bentley said in a statement with
House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del
Marsh that they did not plan to repeal or weaken the law,
widely considered the toughest of its kind in the nation.
Several U.S. states have passed laws cracking down on
illegal immigrants, charging that President Barack Obama and
the U.S. Congress have failed to act on the issue.
"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 in the statement.
Critics of the law said minor revisions would not be enough
to salvage a law that Mary Bauer, the legal director at the
Southern Poverty Law Center, called "incredibly flawed."
Bentley's move came after two foreign employees in
Alabama's important auto industry were detained by police in
recent weeks for failing to produce proof of legal residency,
generating negative publicity for the state and prompting calls
for a re-examination of the law.
The workers - a German Mercedes-Benz executive and a
Japanese employee at Honda -- were released without charges
after the governor's office intervened on their behalf.
"This has everything to do with those auto workers," said
Tommy Eden, an immigration lawyer in Auburn, Alabama.
"A lot of political contributors to the GOP want this
straightened out so it won't scare business away."
The Alabama law, which passed by large margins in both
chambers of the Republican-led Legislature earlier this year,
requires police to detain people they suspect of being in the
United States illegally if they cannot produce proper
documentation when stopped for any reason.
A U.S. appeals court last month blocked Alabama from
enforcing part of the new law, including a controversial
provision that permits the state to require public schools to
determine the legal residency of children on enrollment. But it
let other parts of the law stand, including the detention
Businesses in the state, especially farmers, have protested
the law, saying it had caused widespread departures of Hispanic
workers from the state, creating an employee shortage.
In response, some Alabama officials have suggested putting
state prison inmates to work in the fields to do the jobs once
performed by immigrants.
In his statement, Bentley offered few specifics about the
proposed changes, saying only they would ensure "law
enforcement officers have the clarity, the flexibility and the
tools they need to enforce immigration laws."
But John Fitzgerald, president of Saunders Yachtworks in
Orange Beach, Alabama, and a board member for the Alabama Gulf
Coast Area Chamber of Commerce, said: "The message this is
sending to the world is appalling.
"It is one of the worst things the Legislature has ever
passed. They are dead wrong."
The U.S. Justice Department has sued the state, saying the
law represents an impermissible effort by state lawmakers to
set immigration policy. The department's civil rights division
has said the measure may also violate a number of federal civil
The case is USA v. State of Alabama et al, in U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 11th Circuit, no. 11-14532-CC.
(Reporting by Verna Gates and James B. Kelleher)
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