US & Canada

Alabama immigration law blocked by judge

Opponents of the immigration law spoke to reporters after a hearing on 24 August
Image caption The temporary ruling was cheered by opponents of the law, who call it mean-spirited and racist

A US federal judge has blocked Alabama's strict new anti-illegal immigration law, saying she needed time to weigh its constitutionality.

The federal government in Washington had challenged the law, set to take effect on Thursday, saying states lack authority to set immigration policy.

Judge Sharon Blackburn said she will issue a longer ruling next month.

Among other provisions, the law would require schools to find out whether students are in the country legally.

In addition, it would make it a crime knowingly to give a lift or rent a room to an undocumented worker.

The state's police would also get sweeping new powers.

If, in the course of their duties, they come across anyone whose status is suspect, they would be able to detain them without question.

Supporters of the law, passed in June by the Republican-dominated state legislature, say it is the product of growing frustration in state capitals with the inability of the US federal government in Washington to handle the problem of illegal immigration.

It was opposed by Hispanic groups, immigrant advocacy organisations and some churches, who say it is racist and mean-spirited.

In the Alabama city of Birmingham, Judge Blackburn heard arguments on whether to block 1 September implementation.

Similar laws passed this year and last in Utah, Georgia and Arizona have been blocked in whole or in part after challenges by the Obama administration, which argues that only the federal government has constitutional authority to set immigration policy.

An estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants live in Alabama, most of whom work in agriculture.

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