BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The state of Alabama agreed Tuesday to settle the remaining challenges over its toughest-in-the-nation crackdown against illegal immigration, which has mostly been gutted by federal court decisions.
The state and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a proposed settlement that would end a federal lawsuit over the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, and the state separately filed documents to end a similar suit filed by the Justice Department. Federal courts later blocked main sections, including a one-of-a-kind provision that public schools must check students' citizenship status.
Courts have blocked key parts of similar immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina and other states.
ACLU lawyer Cecillia Wang said the Alabama agreement also means a so-called "show me your papers" provision that allowed police to ask for citizenship documents cannot lead to detentions, as many immigrants had feared.
"Overall this is really a significant win for immigrant families in Alabama and anyone who cares about the rights of immigrants," said Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project.
The agreement permanently blocks sections of the law that were temporarily stopped by courts. The state also agreed to pay $350,000 in attorney fees and expenses for groups that sued to block the law.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has defended the law in court, and Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law, and other Republican supporters said it was needed to protect the rights and jobs of legal Alabama residents
Strange said court rulings voided parts of the law, forcing the settlement.
"It is up to Washington to fulfill its responsibility to enforce the country's immigration laws," said Strange.
Bentley had no immediate comment on the agreements.
The deal followed the Supreme Court's decision earlier this year rejecting Alabama's appeal to revive parts of the law, which supporters and opponents billed as the nation's toughest against illegal immigration.
The school checks never occurred because of legal challenges, and many immigrants who initially fled the state in fear of arrest under the document check provision returned to Alabama.
Agricultural leaders were particularly critical of the law, which they said made it difficult to harvest crops because of a lack of migrant labor, but officials say those labor shortages eased as courts struck down sections of the act.
The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which was heavily involved in the legal challenges, said legislators should repeal the act now that the state has settled the lawsuits.
"We warned the Legislature when they were debating HB 56 that if they passed this draconian law, we would sue in court and win," Kristi Graunke, an attorney with the organization, said in a statement. "That we have done."