— ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) — Many state licensing boards have not yet complied with a requirement in Alabama's immigration law to verify the status of legal immigrants by using a federal database.
A state official tracking compliance told The Anniston Star (http://bit.ly/ViAKFE) that few, if any, of the state's dozens of professional licensing board have been cleared to use the federal government's Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. The law requires them to use the system to verify that legal status.
"The applications are filed, but it's taken a considerable amount of time to get this cleared," said John Norris, director of the operational division of the state Examiners of Public Accounts.
Alabama's immigration law, often called the toughest in the nation, requires proof of legal residency to get state licenses for many professions ranging from dentistry to nursing and from cosmetology to heating and air conditioning repair. Some board administrators said it's not clear how the law is supposed to be implemented, given the ongoing legal challenges by the U.S. Justice Department and groups representing immigrants.
"We've been told one thing, but tomorrow the Supreme Court could tell us something else," said Joe Rogers, executive secretary of the Licensing Board of General Contractors.
Rogers told The Anniston Star that his board asks people filing a license application to say if they are U.S. citizens. They could face a perjury charge if they lie, he said.
If applicants say they are not U.S. citizens, they are asked to provide proof they are in the United States legally, he said.
"The burden of proof is on them," he said.
Rogers said that since the law took effect last year, two applicants were sent away for lack of proof they were not legal residents.
Norris said the Alabama Board of Nursing appears to be the closest to being ready to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
Nursing board director Genell Lee said she applied for approval in October 2011 and got a letter earlier this month saying the board had been approved to use the system. She said there is still some paperwork to complete before the state can use it.
Lee said she is holding up foreign nurses' applications for licenses while she waits.
Jamie Durham, general counsel for the Alabama Homebuilders Licensure Board, said it is awaiting approval to use the federal database.
The Department of Homeland Security's Division of Citizenship and Immigration Services runs the database. Phone messages from The Associated Press seeing comment Friday were not returned.
One of the authors of Alabama's immigration law, Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, accused the federal government of dragging its feet.
He said he wanted to set up a state verification system, but others in the Legislature argued that it would duplicate the existing federal system.