GOP leaders hit by backlash on immigration law

Lawmakers seek to make changes as big business calls for revisions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. Alabama Republicans who pushed through the nation’s toughest law against illegal immigrants are having second thoughts amid a backlash from big business, fueled by the embarrassing traffic stops of two foreign employees tied to the state’s prized Honda and Mercedes plants.

The Republican attorney general is calling for some of the strictest parts of it to be repealed.

Some Republican lawmakers say they now want to make changes in the law that was pushed quickly through the legislature.

Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law, said he’s contacting foreign executives to tell them they and their companies are still welcome in Alabama.

“We are not anti-foreign companies. We are very pro-foreign companies,” he said.

Luther Strange, the attorney general who’s defending the law in court, this week recommended repealing sections that make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to fail to carry registration documents and that require public schools to collect information on the immigration status of students. Both sections have been put on hold temporarily by a federal court.

Two foreign workers for Honda and Mercedes were recently stopped by police for failing to carry proof of legal residency. The cases were quickly dropped, but not without lots of international attention that Alabama officials didn’t want.

One of the groups challenging the law in court said the auto workers’ cases turned public opinion.

“Suddenly, the reality of what the state has done hit people in the face,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Before 2011, Republicans tried repeatedly to pass an immigration law but were always stopped by the dominant Democrats. That changed when Alabama voters elected a Republican legislative supermajority - the first since Reconstruction. The result was a law described by critics and supporters as the toughest and most comprehensive in the nation.

It requires a check of legal residency when conducting everyday transactions such as buying a car license, enrolling a child in school, getting a job or renewing a business license. After the U.S. Justice Department and other groups challenged the law, the federal courts put some portions on hold, but major provisions took effect in late September.

Alabama suddenly found itself at the center of the nation’s immigration debate, ahead of other states with tough laws, including Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina.

Within Alabama, much of the debate is within the business community that helped fund Republicans’ new strength.

The Birmingham Business Alliance this week called for revisions in the law, expressing worry that it’s tainting Alabama’s image around the world. The group also said complying with the law is a burden for businesses and local governments, but did not offer specific changes.

James T. McManus, chairman of the Alliance and CEO of one of the state’s largest businesses, the Energen Corp., said revisions “are needed to ensure that momentum remains strong in our competitive economic development efforts.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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