- (Photo: AP Images / Jon Elswick)
The U.S. federal government and immigration interest groups on Friday urged an appeals court to block a new Alabama immigration law, which they say is ill-conceived and discriminatory and can have diplomatic consequences for America.
The U.S. Justice Department and advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union filed two separate motions against Alabama’s new law in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The Associated Press.
The federal government contended that the law, which has caused a mass exodus of people in the state, was “highly likely to expose persons lawfully in the United States, including school children, to new difficulties in routine dealings.”
The law empowers police to stop anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant during traffic stops for proof of citizenship or immigration status. And schools in Alabama must now check the legal status of new students.
Federal judges have blocked similar laws or some of their provisions in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. And the measures in the Alabama law are even stricter than in those states.
The appeal by the Justice Department claimed the law conflicts with federal guidelines. The obligation on police officers to report illegal immigrants “unnecessarily diverts resources from federal enforcement priorities and precludes state and local officials from working in true co-operation with federal officials,” it said.
Driving illegal immigrants “off the grid” could have a bearing on America’s foreign relations and disrupt immigration policy across the nation, it added. “Other states and their citizens are poorly served by the Alabama policy, which seeks to drive aliens from Alabama rather than achieve co-operation with the federal government to resolve a national problem.”
However, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley doesn’t agree. “I remain committed to seeing that this law is fully implemented. We will continue to defend this law against any and all challenges,” he said in a statement.
U.S. Federal District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn last week refused to stay the law, upholding two key provisions allowing authorities to question people suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them without bond, and letting officials check the immigration status of students in public schools.
The appeals court is expected to rule next week, but it is likely that the law’s fate will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.
The law appears to be a reaction to the growth of the state’s Hispanic population, by 145 percent to about 185,600 in the last 10 years. However, strict measures in it have instilled fears of being deported, prompting a quarter of commercial building workers to leave the state and hundreds of students to remain away from schools. Even some churches have seen a drastic drop in attendance.
According to Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, some churches have experienced a 50 percent drop in attendance since the state legislature began considering the immigration law. “Spanish pastors are telling me that people are leaving. Most of the people who are active in these churches are fully documented. Many are leaving, I think, because they are hurt,” he said.