As Alabama Democrats gather support for a full repeal of the state's immigration law, the Republican attorney general called on Tuesday for state legislators to remove certain portions that he said burden police and U.S. citizens who reside in the state.
Attorney General Luther Strange's call for partial repeal could strengthen efforts by Democrats to chip away at the law, HB 56, and eventually remove it altogether. He recommended that Alabama end two provisions that have been blocked by a federal appeals court, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Strange said the legislature should repeal one provision requiring officials to collect information on the immigration status of public school students, and another mandating that undocumented immigrants carry "alien registration" cards at all times.
Strange also recommended that the legislature repeal a portion of the law that allows for lawsuits if Alabama residents do not believe public officials are enforcing the law, according to the AP. Those three sections of the law, Strange wrote in a letter to top state lawmakers, make the law more difficult to enforce for state police and could cause complications for citizens.
HB 56 mimics Arizona law SB1070, designed to crackdown on illegal immigration, by allowing police to request immigration documents from those they suspect to be undocumented immigrants. The Alabama law is considered the toughest in the nation, in part because of provisions that require immigration or citizenship documents for nearly every interaction with government.
Although Republicans in Alabama say they stand behind the law, several have hinted they would be open to removing some portions.
In November, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, said that HB 56 should be simplified.
The state may also be backing away from Section 30 of the law, which criminalizes a wide range of government interactions for undocumented immigrants. Strange wrote in a guidance last week that the law should apply only to "business transactions" related to government documents and licenses, and should not be used to deny water or housing registration to undocumented immigrants.
Republican state legislators Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh vowed in a Sunday editorial not to "[r]epeal or weaken the law acquiescing to liberal elites' and the news media's efforts to intimidate and shame Alabama."
Democrats in the state legislature, meanwhile, say they are building support for a full repeal of the law, in part based on arguments that HB 56 has seriously tarnished Alabama's reputation. Among other aspects of the law they see as embarrassing, it recently led to the arrest of two foreign auto executives whose companies have plants in the state.
State Sen. Billy Beasley, who wrote a bill to repeal HB 56, said on Tuesday he has support from at least 12 Democrats, including some who voted for the law earlier this year. He said the head of the state senate's judiciary committee promised to hold a hearing on the bill when the legislature begins its session next year.
"We don't want to close the borders to Alabama," Beasley said on a conference call. "Tourism is a very important business proponent of our state. We certainly want, when businesses come into our state, we want to treat them with hospitality and not be checking to see if a person is legal or not legal."
Sen. Hank Sanders, the top Democrat in the state senate, wrote a letter to the governor on Monday calling for a full repeal of the law. He wrote that the law "is an albatross around the neck of Alabama's citizens," and brings back memories of the state's "tortured racial past."
Sanders told HuffPost he opposes the law for a variety of reasons, including its impact on justice and human rights, but is focusing on potential harm to business to try to gather support for the repeal effort.
"What I've tried to do is tell them that this law has become a symbol that's causing all kind of problems for Alabama, because it literally dredges up our long history of oppression," Sanders said. "They really have to understand that sometimes it only takes a spark to set a whole forest fire when the situation is just right. Alabama's history makes these things far more combustible ... that's what I've been trying to impress upon people, that economic development could be set back for decades."