BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A federal judge refused Wednesday to block key parts of Alabama's new law targeting illegal immigrants, including its requirements to check the immigration status of juvenile students in public schools and for police to verify the status of those they suspect of being in the county illegally.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn blocked some other parts of the law, which both supporters and critics say is the nation's toughest clampdown on illegal immigration by a state.
Blackburn wrote in her ruling that federal law doesn't prohibit the law's provisions on students or suspects pulled over by police. She didn't say when those and other parts of the law could take effect, but her previous order blocking enforcement expires on Thursday.
She temporarily blocked four parts of the law until she can issue a final ruling. Those measures would:
- Make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work.
- Make it a crime to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.
- Allow discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss legal workers while hiring illegal immigrants.
- Forbid businesses from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers who are in the country illegally.
Blackburn heard arguments from opponents including the Obama administration, immigrant-support groups and civil libertarians before it was supposed to take effect Sept. 1. The Justice Department contended the state law encroaches on the federal government's duty to enforce immigration law, and other opponents argued it violated basic rights to free speech and travel.
She put the entire law on hold last month, but didn't rule on whether it was constitutional, saying she needed more time.
Similar, less-restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia, and federal judges already have blocked all or parts of those.
Immigration became a hot issue in Alabama over the last decade as the state's Hispanic population grew by 145 percent to about 185,600. While the group still represents only about 4 percent of the population, some counties in north Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Hispanic.
Alabama Republicans have long sought to clamp down on illegal immigration and passed the law earlier this year after gaining control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. GOP Gov. Robert Bentley signed it, saying it was vital to protect jobs of legal residents.
Both supporters and critics say it is the nation's toughest partly because of a section that would require public schools to verify the citizenship status of students and report statistics to the state. Illegal immigrants wouldn't be barred attending public schools, but opponents contend the law is designed to decrease enrollment by creating a climate of fear.
The law also would make it a crime to knowingly assist illegal immigrants by providing them a ride, a job, a place to live or most anything else. Church leaders have complained that component would hamper public assistance ministries. The law also would allow police to jail suspected illegal immigrants during traffic stops.