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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
WSFA 12 News has learned state boards charged with regulating professional licenses may not be fully complying with the state's tough immigration law. The section in question relates to applicants for a professional license verifying their legal status.
Last year, federal courts blocked Section 30 of the immigration law from taking effect. That section required that people prove citizenship or their legal status before they can enter into a business transaction with the state, by applying for a mobile home license for example. Lawmakers slightly reworked this section of the law during the 2012 Legislative Session.
However, the courts left Section 7 in effect. That section defines professional licenses as a public benefit, so those who receive professional licenses must either be U.S. citizens or otherwise in the United States legally. It also requires agencies use a federal system - called SAVE or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements - to verify an applicant's legal status.
The state's Examiners of Public Accounts found numerous licensing boards are not complying with that section. For audit purposes, an official with the Department said that part of the law has been in effect and so the boards should be in compliance with it.
The executive directors of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission and the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board both told WSFA 12 News that their legal counsel advised them not to comply with Section 7 just yet. That because challenges to the immigration law are still pending in federal court. The boards fully intend to comply with the law once legal challenges are settled. The Home Builders Licensure Board said it would cost a lot of money to get its systems in line, money that would be wasted if the law is thrown out.
Keith Warren, who is the executive director of eight state boards, said about half of his boards have complied.
"Dragging it out doesn't help with the efficiency of issuing the licenses," Warren said. "We hope to have this process by sometime mid-Fall."
He said checking the immigration status of people applying for licenses protects consumers as well.
"If they weren't a citizen or they were transient, we have a hard time during the disciplinary process of locating that licensee to address the complaints that we have been notified of," Warren said.
For its part, Governor Robert Bentley's office is urging boards to comply with the law.
"Section 7 of the immigration law has not been changed, and we expect state boards to comply wherever the law applies to their missions," said Jeremy King, Deputy Communications Director for the Governor's office. "We are certainly willing to work with any state board to clarify how Section 7 may apply to that particular board's mission or services."
An opinion from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on challenges to Alabama's immigration law could come down any day now.