Department of Justice and Alabama Churches File Lawsuits Against Alabama's New Immigration LawAugust 02, 2011

The United States Department of Justice yesterday filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama's extremely restrictive immigration law because it interferes with federal enforcement of immigration policy.

"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. Earlier the same day, leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches in Alabama filed a federal lawsuit to stop enforcement of the state's new immigration law, which when it goes into effect September 1 could criminalize ministry and service to known undocumented persons.

Alabama's new immigration law, which requires police officers to check individuals' immigration status during traffic stops if they suspect them to be undocumented immigrants, imposes mandates on schools and employers to track the immigration status of their students and employees, and makes it illegal to knowingly give a ride or shelter to an unauthorized immigrant, has drawn sharp criticism since Governor Robert Bentley signed it on June 9.

Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper believes that the law will hamper local law enforcement's ability to police the community effectively. In a U.S. Justice Department joint statement from federal and local officials, he stated that the law will require the Birmingham Police Department to "expend scarce resources on immigration matters at the expense of" municipal priorities.

The Justice Department's lawsuit contends that Alabama's law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government's authority over immigration and will hamper federal law enforcement of the immigration laws. "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," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The Justice Department won its lawsuit challenging similar provisions in Arizona's immigration law, which has been on hold since last July. A federal appeal court in April upheld the court's decision that the law violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which reserves exclusively for the federal government the right to regulate immigration. Arizona's governor has announced the state will appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Also yesterday, leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches of Alabama filed suit challenging what they call "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation."

Seeking to stop enforcement of the law on behalf of their 338,000 church members in Alabama, the suit contends that the law "will make it a crime to follow God's command to be Good Samaritans," and place church members in the "untenable position of verifying individuals' immigration documentation" before being able to provide food, clothing, shelter and transportation to those in need.