BIRMINGHAM, AL (RNN) - Although a federal judge temporarily barred significant portions of Alabama's controversial new immigration law from taking effect, the state's governor still touted the bill's strength.
"Today, Judge Blackburn upheld the majority and temporarily - and I say temporarily - enjoined only four sections," said Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, the defendant in the cases, in an afternoon news conference. "With those parts that were upheld, we have the strongest immigration law in this country."
An additional section of the law was blocked by U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn in Birmingham, AL, later in the day.
But Blackburn also upheld several of the law's most controversial tenets, including one which requires law enforcement to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of those detained in traffic stops.
Prior to Blackburn's ruling, similar laws in states such as Arizona, whose legislature paved the way for Alabama's bill, had each been enjoined.
One of the most contentious sections of the law, Section 28, which requires every public elementary and secondary school in the state to verify the immigration status of children and their parents, was also upheld.
"The court finds the United States has not submitted sufficient evidence that Section 28 conflicts with federally established foreign policy goals," Blackburn wrote in her opinion.
A coalition of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC), who filed one of three lawsuits against Alabama House Bill 56, vowed to appeal the decision on Wednesday evening.
"The Alabama court has permitted provisions of the law to take effect that require local police, and even school teachers, to become de facto immigration agents," said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the NILC. "Allowing these portions of the law to take effect will cause irreparable harm to communities of color in Alabama, and we will take every legal action necessary to ensure that these provisions ultimately will be stripped from Alabama's lawbooks."
In a ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration, Blackburn did enjoin sections of the law that make it illegal for people to harbor or transport authorized aliens until a final ruling is made.
Blackburn's ruling further enjoined a portion of the law that makes it a misdemeanor crime for an unauthorized alien to apply for or perform work.
Blackburn also enjoined sections of the law regarding the prospective employers of these unauthorized aliens. For example, a law forbidding employers from claiming wages of unauthorized aliens on their state tax returns was enjoined.
Alabama's Democratic Party criticized the law Wednesday, warning that it may lead to racial profiling.
"Though we appreciate the serious and thoughtful deliberation with which Judge Blackburn made her decision today, we are disappointed that the Alabama legislature would see fit to pass a bill that could lead to racial profiling and injustice," said Judge Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democrats, in a statement. "The legal battle has just begun, and we are hopeful that if the ruling is appealed, the appellate courts will take a different path."
The concern was echoed by the SPLC, who called Wednesday a "dark day" for the state of Alabama.
"This decision not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history, but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas - at least for a time," said Mary Bauer, the group's legal director.
Bentley said, however, that the law, which was passed with the support of his Republican party, was never designed to hurt others.
"As a physician, I would never ask a single sick person if he or she was legal or illegal," he said. "But as governor of this state, it is my sworn duty to uphold our laws, and that is what I intend to do."
The state's Democrats also expressed concern Wednesday that the law would place further strain on "already cash-strapped" county and law enforcement agencies.
"Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale has raised concerns about the unreasonable burden this bill places on overcrowded jails, and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan has warned of the devastating impact this bill could have on our agriculture industry," Kennedy said.
The chairman said it was unfortunate that Alabama's congressional Republicans tackled the immigration issue by passing "one of the largest unfunded government mandates" in history.
Bentley said the immigration bill was doctored because the federal government had failed to enforce its own laws.
A third lawsuit, filed by the Rev. Henry Parsley, Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Church's Alabama diocese, was unsuccessful in all of its challenges.