The Alabama House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday passed changes to the state's immigration law [HB 56, PDF], said to be one of the toughest in the nation. The revised bill, passed 64-34 [Reuters report], comes in response to litigation filed since the legislation was originally passed last year [JURIST report]. Aimed at making it easier to defend in court, some of the changes include allowing religious organizations to minister to people regardless of their citizenship status, making clear that officers are not allowed to ask about a person's citizenship status during routine roadblocks and traffic stops, and that people are not required to show proof of citizenship for routine activities such as getting water connected. Proponents of the changes say that, although they want to ensure the law is upheld in court, they still want to keep tight restrictions on illegal immigrants to discourage them from coming to the state, claiming they are taking jobs away from Alabama citizens. Opponents of it say the changes do not go far enough and the law still encourages racial profiling and is too tough on illegal immigration. The changes still must be approved by the state senate and signed by the governor.
Last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit deferred ruling [JURIST report] on the constitutionality of both this law and a similar Georgia law because it wanted to see how a challenge to Arizona's immigration law is ruled on in the US Supreme Court. In December, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced that he would be working to change the law [JURIST report], but maintained that he had no intention of repealing it, and that the essence of the law would still be intact. Bentley's announcement came after a recommendation [JURIST report] by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange that certain provisions probably would not withstand constitutional challenges. Two provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in October after a district court refused to grant [JURIST report] a temporary injunction.