Image: Elementary school students in Alabama
Jay Reeves  /  AP
Students sit in the gym at Crossville Elmentary School in Crossville, Ala., on Wednesday, Aug. 17. Despite being in an almost all-white town, the school's enrollment is about 65 percent Hispanic. Both English- and Spanish-speaking residents say they are awaiting the outcome of a federal court hearing on Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration.
updated 8/29/2011 4:05:48 PM ET 2011-08-29T20:05:48

A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, ruling Monday that she needed more time to decide whether the law opposed by the Obama administration, church leaders and immigrant-rights groups is constitutional.

The brief order by U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn means the law — which opponents and supporters alike have called the toughest in the nation — won't take effect as scheduled on Thursday. The ruling was cheered both by Republican leaders who were pleased the judge didn't gut the law and by opponents who compare it to old Jim Crow-era statutes against racial integration.

Blackburn didn't address whether the law is constitutional, and she could still let all or parts of the law take effect later. Instead, she said she needed more time to consider lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, private groups and individuals that claim the state is overstepping its bounds.

Story: Federal lawyers: Block Ala. immigration law

The judge said she will issue a longer ruling by Sept. 28, and her temporary order will remain in effect until the day after. She heard arguments from the Justice Department and others during a daylong hearing last week.

Similar laws in other states
Similar laws have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges already have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states.

Among other things, the law would require schools to verify the citizenship status of students, but it wouldn't prevent illegal immigrants from attending public schools.

The law also would make it a crime to knowingly assist an illegal immigrant by providing them a ride, a job, a place to live or most anything else — a section that church leaders fear would hamper public assistance ministries. It also would allow police to jail suspected illegal immigrants during traffic stops.

Finding a way to curtail public spending that benefits illegal immigrants has been a pet project of Alabama conservatives for years. Census figures released earlier this year show the state's Hispanic population more than doubled over a decade to 185,602 last year, and supporters of the law contend many of them are in the country illegally.

Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, which is among the groups that sued over the law, hopes Blackburn will block it entirely but was happy with the temporary reprieve.

"We are pleased that Judge Blackburn is taking more time to study the case," she said.

Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he would continue to defend the law, and GOP leaders in the House and Senate praised Blackburn — a Republican appointee — for taking time to fully consider the law.

"We must remember that today's ruling is simply the first round in what promises to be a long judicial fight over Alabama's right to protect its borders," said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon of Decatur. "To put it in sports terms, it is the first half-inning of the first game of a seven-game World Series."

While the Obama administration contends the state law conflicts with federal immigration law, state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, contends the federal government isn't doing its job enforcing immigration laws. Beason said that he spent years researching immigration law to help write the 70-plus page law, and that it's unrealistic to expect a judge to go through it all in a few days.

"You just can't do that," he said.

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Video: Alabama's immigration law under fire

  1. Closed captioning of: Alabama's immigration law under fire

    >>> the justice department has filed suit challenging another tough state immigration law . alabama law set to take effect september 1st was passed and signed by the governor in june and subject of protests and civil suits already. pete williams joins us live now from washington. pete, alabama 's law goes a bit further here than arizona's controversial immigration law which the federal government challenged last year.

    >> that is right. that law has been put on hold by the federal courts , and opponents of of the alabama law says it goes more than a bit further than the arizona law, but it gives the police in alabama more power to detain people suspected of being in country illegally and to ask them for the papers and detain them if they don't carry their papers and it also requires that any parents or children who seek to be enrolled in the public elementary schools in alabama must prove they are here legally. if they are not here legally, the children can at the end school, but what proponents of the law say that the mere fact that the state requires them to demonstrate that the child is here legally for record-keeping purposes would discourage many parents from enrolling the children, and by the way the u.s. stream couupreme court ruled even i f a child is here illegally, they must be afforded a education in the public schools . and this would make it illegal for them to do business with the state and get work and invalidate any contracts with people here illegally and also say that landlords cannot rent any property to people illegally, and the justice department says that all of the things are federal law domain and not state laws, and that the state is basically going where it can't go under the federal constitution . now, defenders of the alabama law say that they want to make it very clear that illegal immigrants are not welcome in the state, and that they are here illegally and they have no right to be here and they don't want the folks to be coming into alabama and trying to get work which they say is the magnet for drawing the illegalle immigrants into the united states in the first place. there are new laws that the justice department is looking at and recently passed immigration rules that are strict in indiana, and utah and colorado are held because of court rulings and also in south carolina , another one that is going to go into effect next year, and lawmakers say they will look into those as well.

    >> and they are saying they are waiting for the federal law to do something fobt about immigration, but intiuntil then,

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