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U.S. asks court to block Alabama immigration law October 7, 2011

Washington (CNN) — The Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to block a tough new immigration law in Alabama from going into effect, saying it “invites discrimination against many foreign-born citizens and lawfully present aliens.”

The emergency motion from the Justice Department was filed Friday, and asks the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to quickly issue a temporary injunction, until the larger questions over the measure’s constitutionality can be addressed.

A federal judge last month had already temporarily blocked enforcement of some parts of the law known as H.B. 56, while allowing other provisions to go into effect.

Other opponents of the measure — including state church leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union — had filed their own separate lawsuits against the state.

At issue is whether H.B. 56 intrudes on the federal government’s power over all immigration matters. State officials argue the law would help Alabama and not violate civil rights.

“H.B. 56 creates a panoply of new state offenses that criminalize, among other things, an alien’s failure to comply with federal registration requirements that were enacted pursuant to Congress’s exclusive power to regulate immigration,” said the brief from the federal government.

Immigration law scares away workers

Where are Alabama immigrants moving?

State officials will now formally respond in coming days to the Obama administration’s motion, and a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit is then expected to issue a decision on the injunction request.

Oral arguments on the larger constitutional issues will likely be held in coming months. The issues may ultimately have to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal judge had upheld a section of the Alabama law requiring that police “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.” That provision is similar to other laws aiming to crack down on illegal immigration passed by other state legislatures over the past year.

But Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn blocked the following provisions from being enforced:

–One saying undocumented immigrants in the state are not allowed to “knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public or private place, or perform work as an employee or independent.”

–One banning the “concealing, harboring, transporting, etc., of unlawfully present aliens.”

–One prohibiting employers from “taking of a state tax deduction for wages paid to an unauthorized alien.”

Another provision going into effect this week requires the state to check immigration status of students in public schools.

During court hearings earlier this summer in Birmingham, Alabama, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center argued the public school portion of the law is unconstitutional.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange told the judge at the hearing the law would not prevent undocumented immigrants from having access to public school education.

Strange also argued that the law is not an anti-immigrant measure, and that the state welcomes visitors.

Several school districts in the state this week have reported a significant number of Hispanic students skipping classes, which many immigrants’ rights advocates attributed to the public school provision.

The Justice Department warned of national implications for Alabama’s law.

“Other states and their citizens are poorly served by the Alabama policy, which seeks to drive aliens from Alabama rather than achieve cooperation with the federal government to resolve a national problem in a manner consistent with the full range of national interests,” according to the federal government motion.

In August, leaders from the Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic churches of Alabama separately sued Alabama’s governor, its attorney general and a district attorney over H.B. 56.

Bishops from two of those churches have opposed the provision preventing the harboring or transporting of undocumented aliens, saying it violated their “religious liberties.”

“We will continue to provide food, shelter, transportation, housing, and the church’s sacraments to all of God’s people, regardless of race, class, or citizenship status,” said Bishop Henry N. Parsley Jr. of the Episcopal Church’s Alabama Diocese and Bishop William H. Willimon of the United Methodist’s North Alabama Conference.

But Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law in June, has said the law he signed would not have been needed “if the federal government would have done its job and enforced the laws dealing with this problem. However, they have failed to do that.”

He added, “This law was never designed to hurt fellow human beings.”

Republican Alabama state Rep. John Merrill told CNN in June that the legislation would be “good for Alabama” because it would reduce illegal immigration to the state and “provide equal opportunities for all people who want to come to Alabama legally.”

ACLU attorney Andre Segura noted the complexity of Alabama’s law compared with other state measures.

The Mexican government had also appealed, arguing the law would promote racial profiling, targeting Hispanics especially.

Alabama’s law is considered the strictest in the nation. Key portions of Arizona’s immigration reform law have also been blocked while a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court consider various challenges.

The Alabama case is U.S. v. State of Alabama (11-14532).


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Alabama immigration law: new appeal to block most draconian measures September 30, 2011

Civil rights and immigrant support groups have filed an appeal against a federal judge’s refusal to block key parts of Alabama‘s tough new immigration law, regarded as the most draconian in the country.

The groups, along with the US justice department and church leaders, had filed three separate challenges to the law, which critics argue would legalise racial profiling. But on Wednesday US district judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to block most of the provisions, allowing Alabama to require public schools to determine the immigration status of children upon enrollment and giving police the power to detain people suspected of being in the US illegally without bail.

Governor Robert Bentley, who signed the Republican-backed legislation in June, welcomed the ruling and said parts of it would now take effect immediately. “We intend to enforce it,” he said.

But on Thursday, a coalition led by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) filed an emergency motion seeking to keep some disputed parts of the law from taking effect, pending an appeal to the 11th US circuit court of appeals in Atlanta.

Victor Spezzini, of HICA, said: “We are concerned that this will allow racial profiling to be legal.”

Law enforcement officials and teachers, some of whom have expressed concern over the law, say they are now unclear as to whether the latest appeal will stop the measures from coming into effect.

“At this point we do not know if that will involve a stay of the law from going into effect before the appeal is heard,” Randy Christian, chief deputy of the Jefferson County Sheriff Department, told Reuters. “We also have to get some answers on how we actually enforce it and how we can do so without involving racial profiling.”

Lawyers said that a key test of the new law will be whether state police enforce it. Two of Alabama’s top law enforcement officers have said that, without fresh resources, enforcing the new law would hamper their ability to fight crime.

Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper and Mike Hale, sheriff of Jefferson County, have spoken of their concerns that having to enforce the new law would tie up limited resources.

Peter Spiro, an immigration law expert at Temple University in Philadelphia, said: “The bottom line is it [the ruling] effectively criminalises undocumented illegal persons in the US. If they start enforcing this, the consequences would be dramatic; there would be a mass exodus in Alabama of undocumented aliens. The question mark is, there’s a lot of discretion to enforce laws.”

Spiro said that police and sheriffs dislike the law, because it “sows distrust in the immigrant community and it lessens their efforts to solve real crimes”.

“There will be pressure on police to enforce this law vigorously” said Spiro. “My guess is there will be some cases where they will have to enforce it. But will they go out on patrol looking for undocumented aliens in order to charge them with State crimes? That’s where the question mark would be.”

Blackburn, a Republican appointee, refused to block a provision requiring public schools to determine, by reviewing birth certificates or sworn affidavits, the legal residency status of students when they enroll. She also refused to stop provisions that barred state courts from enforcing contracts involving illegal immigrants, that made it a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state and that made it a misdemeanour for a resident not to have immigration papers.

However, her 115-page ruling, at least temporarily, prevents provisions in the Alabama law which allows the state from making it a crime to knowingly transport or harbour an illegal immigrant and to bar drivers form stopping along a road to hire temporary workers.

The ruling surprised many as federal courts have already blocked attempts to introduce tough immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah.

The growing legal battle over immigration has led the the Obama administration to consider stepping up its action against states passing immigration laws, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Having already intervened in Arizona and Alabama, administration lawyers are now talking to officials in Utah about a possible lawsuit and are considering challenges in Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana.

“I don’t recall any time in history that the Justice Department has so aggressively challenged state laws,” Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University Law School, told the paper.

Immigration has become a political issue in Alabama over the past decade as the state’s Hispanic population has grown to more than 185,000.

That is only 4% of the state’s population, but some counties in north Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Hispanic.

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