Bloomberg News

Civil Rights Groups Sue to Block Alabama Immigration Law

July 08, 2011

(Updates with comment from governor in eighth paragraph.)

July 8 (Bloomberg) -- An Alabama-based civil rights group sued to block the state’s new immigration law from taking effect, calling the statute’s crackdown on illegal immigrants “the most extreme in the nation.”

The federal lawsuit filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery challenges such provisions of the statute as making it a crime to transport illegal immigrants and requiring school officials to determine the immigration status of students and their parents.

“Alabama’s immigration law is blatantly unconstitutional,” Mary Bauer, the law center’s legal director, said in a statement on the group’s website. “This law revisits the state’s painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents.”

The suit was brought in federal court in Huntsville on behalf of several civil rights organizations and unions, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.

The plaintiffs include Matt Webster, who is adopting two boys who don’t have “current federal immigration status,” according to the complaint. Webster and his wife won’t be able to obtain lawful status for the children until two years after the adoption.

Under the Alabama law, Webster would be violating the law by providing for the children and transporting them, the suit claims.

Following Arizona

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

Bentley campaigned on the need for “a strong” immigration bill.

In an interview today, he was asked about the law’s possible effect on the state.

“I have not talked a lot about it,” Bentley said. “Some bills don’t work as well as you thought they were going to. So the next session you change them. We’re planning on looking at it.”

The law also 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 measure makes it a crime to rent housing to illegal immigrants.

Alabama became the fifth U.S. state to enact such legislation.

Provisions Blocked

Central provisions of Arizona’s 2010 law and a similar statute in Utah, enacted in March, have been blocked by court actions. The ACLU on June 27 won a temporary delay in Georgia’s new immigration law from a federal judge in Atlanta. Enforcement had been slated to begin July 1.

Alabama’s population of about 120,000 unauthorized immigrants rose almost fivefold from 2000 to 2010, according to a February estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.

The case was assigned to Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, chief judge of the Northern District of Alabama.

The case is Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley, 11-cv-02484, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Huntsville).

--With assistance from Simone Baribeau in Miami and Michael McKee in New York. Editors: Fred Strasser, Glenn Holdcraft

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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