Jeremy Gonzalez picks tomatoes on a farm in Steele, Ala., on Monday. Fewer… (Dave Martin, AP )
A federal appeals court temporarily blocked portions of Alabama's strict immigration law Friday, most notably a provision requiring public schools to check the immigration status of students.
But the court let stand a provision requiring police to check the residency status of people they suspect of being illegal immigrants during traffic stops.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the order after the Justice Department requested that the law be blocked until the court could consider it fully. Government lawyers contended, as they have when challenging similar laws in other states, that the legislation was preempted by federal immigration statutes.
The three-judge panel in Atlanta also blocked a provision that would allow authorities to file misdemeanor charges against immigrants who are caught without documents proving their legal status.
But in a victory for the law's proponents, the court upheld a portion of the law that makes it a felony for illegal immigrants to enter into "business transactions" with the state, including applying for driver's or business licenses.
The court also upheld provisions that make all contracts knowingly entered into with illegal immigrants invalid.
The legislation, known as HB 56 and signed by Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley in June, is widely considered to be the toughest of the handful of anti-illegal-immigration laws approved by states.
In a statement, Bentley called the decision "simply one more step in what we knew would be a lengthy legal process. As I have said on many occasions, if the federal government had done its job by enforcing its own immigration laws, we wouldn't be here today."
A number of states, including Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and Indiana, have enacted similar laws.
Federal courts have blocked all of the laws either fully or partially.
The Alabama measure passed by wide margins in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Justice Department officials expressed confidence that the other challenged provisions are also preempted by federal law and said they looked forward to the court considering the appeal further.
A coalition of civil rights groups — led by the American Civil Liberties Union — had also filed suit to challenge the law.
"We're relieved that the court has blocked the provision of the law that has had such a devastating impact on children's access to schools in Alabama, but we remain concerned about the provisions that are still in effect and will continue our legal fight," said Andre Segura, an attorney with the ACLU.
After a federal judge upheld much of the new immigration law in late September, anecdotal reports suggested that many of Alabama's estimated 130,000 illegal immigrants had fled the state. Some restaurant, construction and fieldworkers stopped showing up for work, and scores of students were absent from schools.
In Albertville and other towns across the state Wednesday, dozens of immigrant-owned stores closed in protest of the new law. Many Latinos stayed away from work in what was billed as "un día sin latinos" — "a day without Latinos" — forcing some businesses to close for the day.