Rights Groups Sue Alabama Over Immigration Law, Called Strictest in the Nation

Alabama protest against immigration law before it was passed.

Alabama protest against immigration law before it was passed.  (AP)

 A coalition of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to block Alabama's immigration law, described as the toughest state-level measure on the issue in the nation.

 The lawsuit, filed in Huntsville, said the law is of "unprecedented reach" and goes beyond similar laws passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges already have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states. It asks a judge to declare Alabama's law unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced.

 Alabama's law, which takes effect Sept. 1, allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if the person is stopped for some other reason. It requires businesses to check the legal status of new workers and requires schools to report the immigration status of students. And it deems it a crime to harbor or transport someone who has entered the country illegally, which the groups filing the suit said includes people whose immigration status is legal but who at one time were here unlawfully. 

  The lawsuit said the new law will subject Alabama residents, including U.S. citizens and non-citizens who are in the country legally, to racial profiling. The law also recalls memories of Alabama's troubled segregationist past by making life more difficult for a targeted class of people, according to the lawsuit.

  "Individuals who may be perceived as `foreign' by state or local law enforcement agents will be in constant jeopardy of harassment and unlawfully prolonged detention by state law enforcement officers," the lawsuit said.

   The coalition filing the lawsuit includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, the National Immigration Law Center, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Asian American Justice Center.

   Citing frustration over the federal government's inaction on illegal immigration, state officials have taken the matter into their own hands. State officials say that while the federal government has failed to curb illegal immigration, they have been left to deal with the cost of providing services people who are undocumented.

  The Alabama lawsuit says that parents may be afraid to enroll their children in elementary and high schools because of the law's provision requiring schools to check the immigration status of students. Lawmakers have said that the intent of that requirement is to gauge how much the state is spending to educate undocumented immigrants, and that the law does not prohibit those who are here unlawfully from attending public schools.

 Alabama's law also makes it a crime to knowingly give a ride to an undocumented immigrant and for landlords to knowingly rent to someone who is here unlawfully.

 The lawsuit was filed by various organizations across northern Alabama that represent immigrant groups as well as individual immigrants who are listed under the pseudonyms John Doe and Jane Doe. The lawsuit names as defendants various state and local officials, including Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange and state schools Superintendent Joe Morton.

Supporters of the new law, including Bentley, have predicted it would withstand any legal challenges.

The law was written so that if any provisions are found to be unconstitutional, other parts of the law can remain in effect.

“Alabama has brazenly enacted this law despite the clear writing on the wall:  Federal courts have stopped each and every one of these discriminatory laws from going into effect,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Local Alabama communities and people across the country are shocked and dismayed by the state’s effort to erode our civil rights and fundamental American values. Just as we’ve stopped similar draconian laws in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia from going into effect, we will do so here in Alabama as well.”   

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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