Alabama’s Immigration Law Is Invalid, U.S. Says in Lawsuit

The U.S. Justice Department sued Alabama’s government, arguing the state’s newly passed immigration law conflicts with federal law and is invalid.

“While the federal government values state assistance and cooperation with respect to immigration enforcement, a state cannot set its own immigration policy,” the U.S. Justice Department said today in a press statement announcing the filing.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the law broadening police powers on June 9, following Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in requiring local authorities to identify illegal immigrants. The law is set to take effect on Sept. 1.

The measure requires police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop and suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. Businesses must use a federal database called E-Verify to determine whether job applicants are eligible to work. In addition, the law makes it a crime to rent housing to illegal immigrants. Alabama is the fifth U.S. state to enact such legislation.

“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state emigration laws,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in his department’s press statement.

To the extent the Justice Department finds state laws that interfere with federal immigration law, the U.S. will bring suit, Holder said.

‘Unlawful Presence’

In its filing today, the U.S. asked for a court order blocking parts of the Alabama measure, arguing that they criminalize “unlawful presence” and conflicts with federal regulation of alien employment.

“Lawsuits have been filed in every state that has passed a strong immigration law,” Bentley said in an e-mailed statement responding to the U.S. filings.

“The federal government did not do what it was supposed to do to enforce laws against illegal immigration. That’s why I campaigned on the need for a strong immigration law in Alabama,” the governor said. “The legislature passed that law and I signed it.”

The federal government’s case, filed in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama, is at least the third legal challenge to the measure. Leaders of three Christian denominations representing 338,000 Alabama residents filed suit earlier today. The Southern Poverty Law Center last month challenged the law in a case filed at the state’s capital, Montgomery.

Lost Workforce

Fran Viselli is a deacon at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, and works with that church’s Hispanic ministry. He said many Hispanics “have already left and many more are planning to leave. We have lost a significant part of our workforce here.”

“It’s best for the Justice Department to come in,” he said. “The Hispanic community, though, will do nothing until they know for sure what it means. That’s the first question they ask: What does it mean for us?”

The case is U.S. v. Alabama, 11-J-2746-S, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham). The church leaders’ suit is Parsley v. Bentley, 11-S-2736, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).

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