TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A German manager with Mercedes-Benz is free after being arrested for not having a driver’s license with him under Alabama’s new law targeting illegal immigrants, authorities said Friday, in an otherwise routine case that drew the attention of Gov. Robert Bentley.
Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven Anderson told The Associated Press an officer stopped a rental vehicle for not having a tag Wednesday night and asked the driver for his license. The man only had a German identification card, so he was arrested and taken to police headquarters, Anderson said.
The 46-year-old executive was charged with violating the immigration law for not having proper identification, but he was released after an associate retrieved his passport, visa and German driver’s license from the hotel where he was staying, Anderson said.
The length of his detainment and the status of his court case weren’t immediately known.
Mercedes-Benz, which is a division of Daimler AG, builds sport-utility vehicles at a large plant in Vance, about 20 miles east of Tuscaloosa. The automaker’s decision to open a factory in Alabama in 1993 was considered a major coup for the state’s economic development efforts and launched a trend of other foreign automakers and suppliers who opened major factories in the state, including Honda, Toyota and Hyundai.
Bentley, a Republican who signed the illegal immigration law earlier this year, called the state’s homeland security director, Spencer Collier, after hearing of the arrest to get details about had happened, Collier said in an interview.
“Initially I didn’t have them, so I called Chief Anderson to find out what happened,” Collier said. “It sounds like the officer followed the statute correctly.”
Collier said he didn’t know how Bentley found out about the arrest, and Bentley press secretary Jennifer Ardis referred all questions to Collier.
Collier said he has made at least a dozen similar calls to law enforcement agencies that made arrests under the law to see how it is being handled, and he said his call to Anderson wasn’t prompted by the fact a Mercedes executive was arrested.
“It’s just to make sure they’re using best practices and following the law,” he said.
The law — parts of which were put on hold amid legal challenges — requires that police check citizenship status during traffic stops and take anyone who doesn’t have proper identification to a magistrate. Anderson said that’s what was done, but someone in the same situation wouldn’t have been arrested before the law took effect.
“If it were not for the immigration law, a person without a license in their possession wouldn’t be arrested like this,” he said. Previously, drivers who lacked licenses received a ticket and a court summons, the police chief said.
Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Felyicia Jerald said the man is from Germany and was visiting Alabama on business. The company’s first U.S. assembly plant is located just east of Tuscaloosa.
“This was an unfortunate situation, but the incident was resolved when our colleague ... was able to provide his driver’s license and other documents to Tuscaloosa police,” Jerald said.
The law is considered by both opponents and supporters as the toughest in the U.S. against illegal immigrants. It’s being challenged in federal court by the Justice Department, about 30 civil rights organizations and some prominent church leaders. Judges have blocked some provisions, but sections still stand that allow police to check a person’s immigration status during traffic stops and make it a felony for illegal immigrants to conduct basic state business, like getting a driver’s license.