Adding his voice to a growing chorus of political leaders who have supported, but now express concerns about, Alabama's new hard-line immigration law, Gov. Robert Bentley said the measure needs retooling.
Bentley, a Republican, says he's working to clarify and simplify the law, which is aimed at undocumented immigrants, but which critics say has damaged the state's reputation internationally and caused hardships for legal residents.
Bentley said the law, known as HB 56, has to eliminate unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses and protect faith-based services while ensuring that everyone working in Alabama is legal.
"We recognize that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice," the governor said.
The Legislature passed the law and Bentley signed it with the goal of scaring off illegal immigrants and opening up jobs for legal residents in a state suffering from nearly 10 percent unemployment. More than 30 groups and individuals challenged the law, but federal courts let several major provisions of the law take effect in late September.
We recognize that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice.
- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Since then, two foreign workers for Alabama's prized Honda and Mercedes auto assembly plants have been stopped by police for not having the required documents to prove residency. The cases were later dropped.
But the incidents brought unwanted international attention to Alabama and prompted the Birmingham Business Alliance and others involved in industrial recruitment to call for changes.
One of the groups challenging the law said the governor's announcement represented a significant shift in the state's position.
"We are delighted legislators are recognizing the devastating consequences of the law," said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She said she was troubled that the governor and legislative leaders offered no examples of what they want to simplify and that they said the essence of the law would not change.
"The essence of the law is what has devastated the Latino community and this state," she said.
The law 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.
Several parts of the law are on hold because of federal lawsuits, including a provision requiring schools to check the legal status of new students and making it a crime to transport an undocumented immigrant.
Faith-based groups have been among the critics of the law, because they say it makes religious outreach and charity to immigrant communities illegal.
Meanwhile, organizers for immigrant groups and civil rights organizations from 20 states are planning a two-day meeting and march in Montgomery to advocate repeal of the immigration law.
The Immigrant National Convention says the meeting Dec. 16 will include two of the Freedom Riders from the civil rights movement. They will discuss how that movement relates to today's debate over the state's tough immigration law.
The group plans a march Dec. 17 from the state Capitol to the governor's mansion. A spokeswoman says participants in the march will include the presidents of the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the Service Employees International Union.
"Attendees will fight to reverse HB 56, organize to block similar state bills around the country, and advance the cause of justice for all," said a statement by NCLR.
"Children and families will deliver their wishes to Governor Bentley to call for an end to racial profiling, and to call for keeping families together and building a better Alabama," the statement added.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.