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Obama files court challenge to Ala. immigration law


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The U.S. Justice Department today filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s new immigration law, which is slated to go into effect next month.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department says Alabama’s law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority over immigration.

“To put it in terms we relate to here in Alabama, you can only have one quarterback in a football game. In immigration, the federal government is the quarterback,” said Joyce White Vance, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Justice Department lawyers write in the lawsuit that the department is filing the action “to declare invalid and preliminarily and permanently enjoin the enforcement of various provisions” of the state law, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham this afternoon. Provisions within the state’s immigration law “are preempted by federal law and therefore violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.”

Parts of the state law also undermine the federal government’s careful balance of immigration enforcement priorities and objectives, according to a U.S. Justice Department joint statement from federal and local officials about the lawsuit.

“The brief filed today makes clear that, while the federal government values state assistance and cooperation with respect to immigration enforcement, a state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws,” according to the statement.

“Today’s action makes clear that setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “The department is committed to evaluating each state immigration law and making decisions based on the facts and the law. To the extent we find state laws that interfere with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration law, we are prepared to bring suit, as we did in Arizona.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that Homeland Security continues to enforce federal immigration laws in Alabama and around the country “in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor, as well as continue to secure our border.”

“Legislation like this diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve,” Napolitano said. “We continue to support comprehensive reform of our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.”

Birmingham Chief of Police A.C. Roper, according to the statement, believes that the Alabama immigration law will hamper local law enforcement’s ability to police the community effectively.  Roper stated that the law will require the Birmingham Police Department to “expend scarce resources on immigration matters at the expense of” municipal priorities.

Alabama and several other states have enacted state immigration laws in the wake of Arizona’s law. The Justice Department in July 2010 also had challenged Arizona’s immigration law.

Earlier today the bishops who lead the Episcopal, United Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches in Alabama filed a civil lawsuit to try and block enforcement of Alabama’s new immigration law. The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and other groups had also filed a civil lawsuit last month asking for a judge to block enforcement of the law and rule it unconstitutional.

The Alabama Legislature enacted the new law in June.

Alabama’s new immigration law targets unauthorized immigrants, those who don’t have federal alien registration or other proof of legal presence in the United States. If it takes effect, the law would criminalize their presence in Alabama and make it a crime for them to work here, among other things.

An estimated 120,000 unauthorized immigrants lived in Alabama in 2009 and 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

Most sections of Alabama’s immigration law take effect Sept. 1. The law, among other things would make it illegal for a person without proof they are legally in the United States to be in Alabama and to work or apply for work.

The new law would require a law officer stopping, detaining or arresting a person to make a reasonable attempt, when practicable, to determine the citizenship and immigration status of the person if there is reason to suspect the person is an illegal alien. Law officers would have to contact federal officials to check the person’s status.

It will be a crime for a person who knew or recklessly disregarded that an immigrant was in the United States illegally to: conceal, harbor or shield the immigrant from detection, transport the immigrant or rent a dwelling unit to the immigrant. School districts will be required to report to the state school board the numbers of its students born outside U.S. jurisdiction or who have a parent who is an illegal immigrant.

Employers in Alabama beginning April 1 must use the federal E-Verify program to verify the employment eligibility of a new hire. Employer found to have knowingly employed an unauthorized immigrant would have the business license suspended or revoked for where the person worked, except those who had used the e-verify information.

Read Alabama’s new immigration law

Read the lawsuit

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