With a federal judge refusing to block key parts of Alabama’s new immigration law, police officials in Cullman County are saying they are awaiting further guidance from state Attorney General Luther Strange on how to enforce the legislation.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn announced Wednesday that federal law does not prohibit the law’s provisions on police verifying the status of those they suspect of being in the country illegally.
With that decision comes plenty of controversy, primarily concerning potential racial profiling.
“This matter is far from over,” said Cullman attorney Tommy Drake, who in July filed a lawsuit in Montgomery Circuit Court on behalf of both undocumented immigrants and U.S. Citizens who reside in Cullman and Blount counties.
“The ‘enabling’ portions of the statute remain, specifically, what we feel allows law enforcement the power to make profile or pretextual stops based upon a perceived ‘unlawful presence,” Drake added. “Since a given driver may be subject to immediate arrest on site, detained and thereafter deported, there is no recourse, and thus, no due process of law before a neutral and unattached magistrate or judge.”
Now that Blackburn has made her ruling, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said the state will enforce it.
Local law enforcement officials said they will follow Bentley and Strange’s guidelines on how to enforce the law.
“That’s what we’re waiting for,” Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said. “One way or the other, we’re going to wait for the state attorney general to look at the court ruling, and then we’ll follow his final call.”
Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey echoed those sentiments.
“We’re depending on the state attorney general and the Alabama Sheriff’s Association for guidance on how to enforce this law,” Rainey said. “We answer to the state attorney general, so when his office makes a decision on how to handle this, then we’ll follow whatever he says.”
While Rainey said his office will follow guidelines set forth by the state attorney general, the Cullman County sheriff admits he has some concerns — primarily about how immigrants who are found to be here illegally are housed after they are taken into custody by law enforcement.
Because the Cullman County Detention Center has been running at near capacity for the past few months, space for inmates is at a premium. That increased population has also put a strain on an already tight jail budget.
But what happens if jail officials are now asked to house undocumented immigrants for an extended period of time?
Depending on federal aid could be a problem.
According to Capt. Edward Potter, who servers as warden at the Cullman County Detention Center, current state law says that undocumented immigrants who are taken into custody by law enforcement are reported to Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). If those immigrants have a criminal background, INS typically picks them up within two days after they’ve been processed through the local system.
As for those undocumented immigrants who don’t have a criminal background? Potter said INS usually hasn’t taken them into custody in the past.
“We can’t go out here and arrest 100 or 200 people and be expected to keep them in the jail for months at a time because (the detention center) is already crowded,” Rainey said. “If we’re asked to detain illegal immigrants, then the feds are going to come and pick them up in a timely manner because we don’t have the space or means to keep them here for long periods of time.”
* Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225 or by email at email@example.com.