Hearing on Alabama immigration law in Birmingham - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Legal arguments wrap up in court hearing over Alabama immigration law

Posted: Updated:
BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Attorneys and spectators remained at the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse in downtown Birmingham into the evening Wednesday as a judge heard arguments on whether to allow Alabama's new immigration law to go into effect on September 1.

The judge ended courtroom arguments around 6:40, asking to meet with attorneys.  Attorneys were seen leaving the courthouse a few minutes later and said the arguments had concluded.  There was no timeline given for when the judge might issue her ruling on whether the law will be implemented.

Throughout the day, hundreds of spectators watched the proceedings.  As the sun was setting, a group of students maintained their nightly vigil on the courthouse steps - hoping Chief Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn would issue a preliminary injunction against the law.

Inside the courthouse, those challenging the law included the federal government, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and religious organizations.

An attorney for the federal government argued that Alabama's state law seeks to enter areas of criminal law enforcement where the state has no authority.  He also said the law conflicts with mandates that protect lawfully present immigrants from being harassed.

"When the federal government is vested with the obligations that are at issue, there is no room for the state," attorney William Orrick said.  "If 50 states are applying 50 different laws regarding transportation and travel and moving through states, it would be a totally unworkable system."

Orrick noted that the federal government has allowed certain rights for illegal immigrants, including access to public education and medical care and other core necessities to live in this country.  The Alabama law, he argued, went against the grain of those federal provisions.

"The state may not make it impossible for people to live in the state," Orrick argued.

At various times, Judge Blackburn peppered Orrick with questions regarding his reading of various federal statutes.  The judge herself has said several times that she will further study the statutes discussed in court before rendering any decision on the Alabama law.

"I have not made up my mind.  I have not decided any of the sections," Judge Blackburn told the attorney.

"I have strong leanings on all of them," the judge continued.  However, "It makes no difference my thoughts on the statutes.  It's whether they're constitutional," she added.

The judge also heard from other attorneys, including Cecillia Wang, who represents the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.  Like Orrick, Wang argued the state's law was overreaching and encroached on federal territory.

"Finding, detaining, punishing, and expelling aliens from the United States is given to the federal government to do," Wang said.

State Senator Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who was one of the legislative sponsors of the law, was among the spectators in an overflow room watching the proceedings via closed-circuit television.

Beason told ABC 33/40 around midday Wednesday that he was encouraged that the judge said she would rule based on the Constitution and not on personal feelings.

When asked for his reaction to the arguments against the law, Beason said, "The most frustrating part was to hear the Department of Justice lawyers talking about cooperation.  The state has been asking for cooperation to help enforce some of these things."

Beason maintained that the federal government had dropped the ball on enforcing immigration laws.

"That's one of the reasons we had to pass legislation," he said.

Later, as the court's lunch break was winding down, Beason sat in the overflow room waiting to watch additional proceedings.  There, he was greeted by a small group of students who come from immigrant families in metro Birmingham.  The students belong to the group Alabama Dreamers.

Each student greeted himself or herself, and the senator shook each student's hands.  They then discussed the immigration law and its effect.

One student, who recently graduated high school and would like to attend college, said his parents brought him to America when he was six years old, and the goal was to better themselves and attain a brighter future.  The law, the student said, threatened his future and those of other immigrants.

"Do you fully understand the trouble, the hardships that we have been through?" the student asked Beason.  He expressed concern that the immigration law would deter immigrants from receiving the education they need to make better lives for themselves and their families.

Later, that student spoke with reporters outside the courthouse.  His name is Victor Palafox.  He belongs to the student-based group Alabama Dreamers.  He said he wanted the senator - and everyone else - to simply get to know the immigrant community.

"I assure you - you have much more common ground with them than you have differences," Palafox said.  "It's all about a matter of getting to know each other, getting to know that we all strive for the same thing.  We strive for equality, for opportunity, and for the opportunity to better not only ourselves but our children and future generations."

Other students had presented similar comments to Beason, detailing how their parents brought them to Alabama years ago in search of work and education.  It was clear the senator and the students held polar opposite views on the law, but the discussion from everyone involved remained respectful in tone, despite the disagreement.

"Our effort is not to cause problems for anyone," Beason told the students.  "We have a number of issues in the state of Alabama that have to be dealt with.  Unfortunately, the federal government has not done what they've needed to do for years and years and years."

Attorney General Luther Strange and other attorneys for the state argued on behalf of the law as it was passed.  Strange said the law had been labeled by many people as "anti-immigration."

"In my view, nothing could be further from the truth," Strange said.  "You only have to look at Mercedes and Hyundai and many other examples on that point."

Strange argued the state wanted to see immigration in a legal manner.

The judge said at 6:37 p.m. that she would not issue a ruling before the night was over.  She had made it clear that she did not agree with some of the assertions made by the attorneys challenging the law.  For example, she indicated that the crime of "transporting" an illegal immigrant likely would not include something as simple as giving an immigrant a ride to church.  Instead, the criminal element would be transporting along the lines of "smuggling" someone.

Still, the judge said she wanted to study various statutes to better familiarize herself with attorneys' arguments before issuing her ruling.

  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Former firefighter charged with setting fires

    Former firefighter charged with setting fires

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 1:06 PM EDT2014-09-02 17:06:45 GMT
    The Jefferson County Sheriff's office arrested a 23-year-old man and charged him with three counts of intentionally setting a woodland fire. Between August 26th and August 29th, the Sheriff's office along with the Eastern Valley Fire Department responded to three woods fire near the Meadow Lakes subdivision in Eastern Valley. In each case, the fire was determined to be set intentionally. No homes was damaged. Firefighters reported seeing a man who was formerly a junior firefighter with the Ea...More >>
    The Jefferson County Sheriff's office arrested a 23-year-old man and charged him with three counts of intentionally setting a woodland fire. Between August 26th and August 29th, the Sheriff's office along with the Eastern Valley Fire Department responded to three woods fire near the Meadow Lakes subdivision in Eastern Valley. In each case, the fire was determined to be set intentionally. No homes was damaged. Firefighters reported seeing a man who was formerly a junior firefighter with the Ea...More >>
  • Birmingham City Leaders address recent rash of killings

    Birmingham City Leaders address recent rash of killings

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 1:06 PM EDT2014-09-02 17:06:29 GMT
    Birmingham City leaders are urging for more public safety talks and action after the city suffered six killings since Friday.Mayor William Bell and several councilors spoke up during Tuesday's City Council meeting regarding the tragic holiday weekend. They also offered their condolences to the victims and their families.Councilman Steven Hoyt, who is also chair of the city's Public Safety Committee, says there needs to be more attention dedicated to curbing violence. He recognized the efforts...More >>
    Birmingham City leaders are urging for more public safety talks and action after the city suffered six killings since Friday.Mayor William Bell and several councilors spoke up during Tuesday's City Council meeting regarding the tragic holiday weekend. They also offered their condolences to the victims and their families.Councilman Steven Hoyt, who is also chair of the city's Public Safety Committee, says there needs to be more attention dedicated to curbing violence. He recognized the efforts...More >>
  • Friday Night Blitz: Coverage lineup for Week 3

    Friday Night Blitz: Coverage lineup for Week 3

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 1:01 PM EDT2014-09-02 17:01:27 GMT
    Week 3 Blitz Game of the Week and other notable matchups across central Alabama...More >>
    Week 3 Blitz Game of the Week and other notable matchups across central Alabama...
    More >>
  • New JeffCo EMA coordinator calls for transparency

    New JeffCo EMA coordinator calls for transparency

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 12:54 PM EDT2014-09-02 16:54:37 GMT
    Expect to see changes within the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency. Tuesday, James Coker was sworn in as the new coordinator. He wants to make the agency's operations more visible.More >>
    Expect to see changes within the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency. Tuesday, James Coker was sworn in as the new coordinator. He wants to make the agency's operations more visible.More >>
  • Birmingham police investigate fatal shooting in Ensley, 5 other killings in past week

    Birmingham police investigate fatal shooting in Ensley, 5 other killings in past week

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 12:50 PM EDT2014-09-02 16:50:44 GMT
    Birmingham police are investigating six killings over the past five days. In the latest death early Tuesday, a man lost his life in a hail of gunfire outside a home in the Ensley area.More >>
    Birmingham police are investigating six killings over the past five days. In the latest death early Tuesday, a man lost his life in a hail of gunfire outside a home in the Ensley area.
    More >>
  • Nick Saban: Bama's QB competition continues between Blake Sims, Jacob Coker

    Nick Saban: Bama's QB competition continues between Blake Sims, Jacob Coker

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 12:31 PM EDT2014-09-02 16:31:19 GMT
    Alabama still has competition for the starting job at quarterback. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jake Coker will play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He says he hasn't determined how the rotation will work for No. 2 Alabama.More >>
    Alabama still has competition for the starting job at quarterback. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jake Coker will play Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He says he hasn't determined how the rotation will work for No. 2 Alabama.
    More >>
  • Hoover police searching for suspect in purse-snatching at Winn Dixie grocery store

    Hoover police searching for suspect in purse-snatching at Winn Dixie grocery store

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 12:14 PM EDT2014-09-02 16:14:04 GMT
    Hoover police need help identifying a suspect in a purse-snatching at a local grocery store earlier this summer.More >>
    Hoover police need help identifying a suspect in a purse-snatching at a local grocery store earlier this summer.More >>
  • 32 teens escape from Nashville detention center

    32 teens escape from Nashville detention center

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 11:55 AM EDT2014-09-02 15:55:25 GMT
    A spokesman says more than 30 teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center and 17 are still being sought.More >>
    Thirty-two teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center by crawling under a weak spot in a fence late Monday, and nine of them were still on the run Tuesday, a spokesman said.More >>