Alabama Immigration Law May Lead to Suits Over Police Checks, Judge Says

A federal judge said Alabama’s immigration law requiring police officers to check immigrants’ legal status might lead to lawsuits for unlawful detention.

“There are a lot of problems with this statute,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn in Birmingham, Alabama, said yesterday in a hearing on three lawsuits. “My job is to decide if this is constitutional.”

The federal government and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Christian clergy sought at yesterday’s hearing to delay enforcement of the law, set to take effect Sept. 1. Blackburn ended the hearing without ruling.

“I’m not issuing any ruling yesterday even though I’ve indicated my feelings,” Blackburn said. Earlier, she questioned whether the clergy group had standing to bring the complaint and said she was likely to rule against the group’s claims.

The law will require police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop and suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. Businesses will have to use the federal E-Verify database to determine whether job applicants are eligible to work. It will also be a crime to knowingly rent housing to illegal immigrants.

The U.S. Justice Department and the ACLU argue that federal law governs the treatment of undocumented immigrants. Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist clergy say the statute makes it illegal for them to fulfill their mission to feed, clothe and give communion to undocumented aliens.

‘Respect the Law’

“The U.S. is advocating a dramatic and drastic expansion of power” by claiming the state doesn’t have any jurisdiction with regard to illegal immigration, said Alabama Deputy Attorney General John Neiman.

Most provisions of the state’s law apply to Alabama citizens and not undocumented immigrants, Neiman said. The state has a right to police its own citizens and “respect the law,” he said.

Under the law, an employer who hired unauthorized immigrants and took deductions from their wages would be liable for civil fraud under the new statute, Neiman said.

Alabama is the fifth U.S. state to enact such legislation. The three lawsuits are consolidated before Blackburn.

Blackburn told Augusta Dowd, the lawyer for the clergy group, that the law didn’t mention religious activities as to illegal immigrants and didn’t restrict church activities.

“I am not going to keep disagreeing with you,” she told Dowd.

The cases are Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2484, Parsley v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2736, and U.S. v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2746, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Viele Davidson in Birmingham, Alabama, at lviele@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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