By Verna Gates
Birmingham, Alabama (Reuters) - Alabama's House of Representatives passed a new version of its controversial immigration law on Thursday, revising parts of a measure that has faced court challenges and sharp criticism since it first passed last year.
Alabama's governor and lawmakers had promised changes to the tough immigration law following embarrassing incidents where foreign workers were detained because they were not carrying sufficient identification.
Supporters of the bill said they wanted to clarify the legislation to make it more enforceable without weakening the overall immigration policy, considered the toughest of its kind in the United States.
The revised immigration bill passed by a 64-34 vote. It will now be taken up by the Alabama Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
Changes to the legislation include suspending a business license for 60 days, up from 10 days, for hiring an illegal immigrant; allowing schools an exemption from reporting the status of students; and granting more latitude to churches in ministering to those in the country illegally.
Critics of the bill believe the revisions do nothing to address the most worrisome aspects of the policy, saying it has resulted in discrimination and encourages police profiling.
"This law is wreaking havoc on the people of Alabama," said Zayne Smith, director of the Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Several U.S. states have passed laws cracking down on illegal immigrants, charging that President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress have failed to act on the issue.
Alabama's law gained national attention after two foreign employees in the state's auto industry were detained by police last year for failing to produce proof of legal residency.
The workers -- a German Mercedes-Benz executive and a Japanese employee at Honda -- were released without charges after the governor's office intervened on their behalf.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has ordered the state to stop enforcing certain provisions of the original bill. Federal judges have blocked key parts of other immigration laws passed in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Lisa Shumaker)