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

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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.

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