BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, ruling Monday that she needed more time to decide whether the law opposed by the Obama administration, church leaders and immigrant rights groups is constitutional.
The brief order by U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn means the law — which opponents and supporters alike have called the toughest in the nation — won't take effect as scheduled Thursday. The ruling was cheered both by Republican leaders who were pleased the judge didn't gut the law and by opponents who compare it to old Jim Crow-era statutes against racial integration.
Blackburn didn't address whether the law is constitutional, and she could still let all or parts of the law take effect later. Instead, she said she needed more time to consider lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, private groups and individuals that claim the state is overstepping its bounds.
The judge said that she will issue a longer ruling by Sept. 28 and that her temporary order will remain in effect until the day after. She heard arguments from the Justice Department and others during a hearing last week.
Similar laws have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges already have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states.
Among other things, the law would require schools to verify the citizenship status of students, but it wouldn't prevent illegal immigrants from attending public schools.
The law also would make it a crime to knowingly assist an illegal immigrant by providing them a ride, a job, a place to live or almost anything else — a section that church leaders fear would hamper public assistance ministries. It also would allow police to jail suspected illegal immigrants during traffic stops.
Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, among the groups that sued over the law, was happy with the temporary reprieve.
"We are pleased that Judge Blackburn is taking more time to study the case," she said.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he would continue to defend the law, and GOP leaders in the House and Senate praised Blackburn — a Republican appointee — for taking time to fully consider the law.
"We must remember that (Monday's) ruling is simply the first round in what promises to be a long judicial fight over Alabama's right to protect its borders," said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon of Decatur.
"To put it in sports terms, it is the first half-inning of the first game of a seven-game World Series."