By Peggy Gargis
BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday blocked Alabama's tough new immigration law from taking effect this week, citing the need for more time to consider the legal challenges against it.
Chief District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said the injunction would remain in effect until September 29, but could be lifted sooner if she issues a full order before then as she indicated she plans to do.
"In entering this order the court specifically notes that it is in no way addressing the merits of the motions," the judge wrote in her two-page order.
The Alabama law, widely seen as the toughest state measure on illegal immigration, requires police to detain people they suspect of being in the United States illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.
The law also makes it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant, and requires public schools to determine, by reviewing birth certificates or sworn affidavits, the legal residency status of students upon enrollment.
Lawyers for the Obama administration and other groups asked the judge last week to halt the law, which was set to take effect this Thursday.
The administration argued that the U.S. Constitution bars states from adopting their own immigration regime that interferes with the federal system.
Other opponents say the law will deter children in immigrant families from enrolling in school and criminalize Alabama residents who interact with those in the country without documents.
Supporters and critics of the crackdown praised Blackburn on Monday for giving the issue careful consideration.
"I think she should be applauded for that. I'm not encouraged or discouraged," Republican Senator Scott Beason, a co-sponsor of the law, told Reuters.
"You're talking about a 70-page bill, and if you're really going to do it justice and do it correctly, I would think you'd need more than two or three days to figure it out."
Shay Farley, legal director for the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, one of the plaintiffs seeking to halt the law, agreed the judge has her work cut out.
"We welcome the judge's decision to take the time she needs to evaluate all of the issues and the corresponding law to support those claims," Farley said, noting there were nine hours of testimony at last week's hearing and hundreds of pages of legal pleadings filed. "It's a lot to wade through."
Federal judges have previously blocked key parts of other immigration laws passed in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana.
(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)