Civil Rights Groups Challenge Alabama Immigration Law

Posted July 8th, 2011 at 5:35 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. civil rights groups are suing to block the implementation of a tough new illegal immigration measure in Alabama.

The class action lawsuit, filed in federal court Friday, says the law is extreme and stricter than measures in other states that have already been challenged in court. They are asking a judge to declare the measure unconstitutional, and to stop it from going into effect in the meantime.

The suit says the law invites racial profiling, and will target for harassment anyone who looks “foreign.”

A coalition of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, has come together to bring forth the lawsuit, representing a large group of plaintiffs.

A state legislator who sponsored the immigration law is defending it. Micky Hammon said in a statement the measure protects legal immigrants, and only affects those who “break our laws with their simple presence.” He said the state cannot “turn a blind eye” toward those who “thumb their noses” at U.S. borders and laws.

A spokesman for the state attorney general said its office had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment.

The measure, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Robert Bentley last month, is set to go into effect September 1. It will allow Alabama police to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country illegally when that person is stopped for any other reason.

It will also be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally, and employers will be required to use a federal system called E-Verify to determine the immigration status of new employees.

The measure will also require public schools to determine students' immigration status, saying there is a “compelling need” to measure the illegal immigrant student population because of the impact the cost of their presence can have on publicly funded education.

Alabama is the latest state to adopt an immigration law similar to the controversial measure passed in the southwestern state of Arizona last year. The Arizona law would have allowed police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

A federal judge blocked key parts of the Arizona law last year after the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against it. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation, has vowed to take the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Arizona officials say the law is needed to crack down on violent drug trafficking they say is spreading over the border from Mexico.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold another Arizona law allowing the state to revoke the business licenses of companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The majority of the court's justices said states can control licensing issues.