The Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration looks set to be brought to Alabama after the state’s House of Representatives passed the measure.
Despite opposition from Democrats and civil rights groups, it was passed by 73 votes to 28 on Tuesday and will now go to the Alabama Senate for a vote.
The bill gives state and local police broad powers to check the immigration status of people detained on other charges.
It would also require businesses in the state to run checks on new employees through a federal computer database, and use a state verification program to deny public services to illegal immigrants.
Republican Micky Hammon, who sponsored the bill, told the House: ‘We cannot allow Alabama to become a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.’
The law is similar to the controversial anti-immigration measure passed by Arizona last year that sparked a legal fight and a confrontation with the federal government.
During a vigorous debate, legislators voiced concerns over the additional cost the crackdown would place on already strained state and civic budgets.
Rights groups said they were concerned that it would lead to racial profiling in the state, which has a long history of civil rights violations, and infringe the federal government’s duty to enforce immigration laws.
When Arizona passed the new immigration laws last year it sparked a legal fight and a confrontation with the federal government for a variety of reasons
Legal director of the non-profit Alabama Appleseed organization Shay Farley said: ‘This is 100 per cent the responsibility of the federal government and states cannot usurp that power.
‘It will cause more problems that it solves.’
Alabama is not the only state which will adopt the Arizona-inspired immigration measures, similar proposals are proceeding through legislatures in Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Lawmakers in Arizona, Nebraska, Kentucky and Kansas have ditched or killed off tough immigration measures in recent weeks, amid concerns over potentially costly litigation, economic boycotts and the practicality of enforcing the laws.
Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor, said: ‘At one level, a lot of people realized that many of these reforms are more symbolic than anything else.
‘Some will get blocked in the courts because immigration is really a federal prerogative, and others because they are viewed as unconstitutional due to the discriminatory or racial profiling aspect.’