While the long-range implications of the decision remain to be seen, immigrants celebrated the judges' ruling. Word spread quickly through the state's Hispanic community as Spanish-language radio stations aired the news.
"When I listened to that, I started crying. I called my friends . . . We're all happy," said Abigail, an illegal immigrant who did not want her last name used for fear of arrest.
Before the ruling, Armando Cardenas said he was thinking about leaving Alabama because of the possibility of being arrested as an illegal immigrant and the hostility he now feels from residents. Now, Cardenas said, he will stay a while longer. "It's not easy to leave everything you have worked so hard for," he said.
The judges let stand part of the law that allows police to check a person's immigration status during a traffic stop. Courts also cannot enforce contracts involving illegal immigrants, such as leases, and it is still a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state for basic things like getting a driver's license, the judges ruled. Their 16-page decision contained very little discussion about the ruling.
The appeals court blocked part of the law that required school officials to verify the citizenship status of students enrolled after Sept. 1. It also barred enforcement of a section that let police file a misdemeanor charge against anyone who is in the country illegally and doesn't have federal registration papers.
The Obama administration and a group of immigrant advocates such as the ACLU sued the state of Alabama after the law was passed in June. A federal judge upheld much of it late last month, and the Obama administration and the groups appealed.
Alabama Republicans said the law was needed to protect the jobs of legal residents. House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who championed the measure, praised the panel for allowing the "most effectual parts" of the law to remain in place.