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Alabama, rights groups reach settlement on immigration law

By Verna Gates

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - The state of Alabama and a coalition of civil rights groups reached a settlement on Tuesday that discarded several important sections of the state's immigration law, widely considered the most stringent in the country.

Under the deal to end lawsuits challenging the immigration law, which was outlined in agreements filed in U.S. federal court in Alabama, the state will not enforce several key provisions voided by federal courts.

Alabama agreed to permanently block several sections of the law including a provision that required public schools to determine the citizenship status of students.

The state acknowledged in the agreement that police cannot hold someone during a traffic stop to check their immigration status. Alabama will also pay $350,000 in legal fees and expenses for the groups that filed the lawsuit.

When it was passed by Alabama's Republican-controlled legislature in 2011, the law, known as HB 56, was immediately deemed the toughest in the nation by both supporters and critics.

Immigration rights advocates called the law "draconian" and vowed to challenge it in court.

"Today's settlement should remind legislators in both Montgomery and Washington that a person's constitutional rights many not be legislated away," said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center.

The deal follows a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year to reject Alabama's attempt to revive sections of the law that had faced legal challenges.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said the court rulings had led the state to seek a settlement.

"The Attorney General's Office has vigorously defended our state's immigration law in both the federal trial and appellate courts," Strange said in a statement.

"The courts have upheld most of the Act but have also made clear that some provisions are invalid. The filings made today inform the trial court of which claims must be dismissed and which provisions of our law cannot be enforced."

(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray in Miami; Editing by Leslie Adler and Mohammad Zargham)

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