Bloomberg News

U.S. to Appeal Ruling Upholding Alabama Immigration Law

September 30, 2011

(Updates with court filing in second paragraph.)

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department said it will appeal the decision by a judge in Birmingham, Alabama, that allowed the state to enforce parts of an immigration law opposed by the federal government.

“Under the Constitution, immigration, no less than other aspects of the nation’s foreign relations and foreign commerce, requires uniform regulation, and cannot be subject to a patchwork of state measures,” Justice Department lawyers said today in a request to put U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn’s ruling on hold while it’s under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Blackburn said in her Sept. 28 decision that under the law, state police can make “a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person otherwise detained or arrested, when there’s reasonable suspicion to inquire about that status.

Nothing in the federal Immigration and Nationality Act “expressly preempts states from legislating on the issue of verification of an individual’s citizenship and immigration status,” Blackburn said in her 115-page ruling.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a first-term Republican, signed the immigration measure into law on June 9. After the U.S. government, church leaders and civil rights groups sued to block it, Blackburn issued a provisional order barring its enforcement on Aug. 29. Bentley called the ruling upholding parts of the law “a victory for Alabama.”

The law, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, includes provisions requiring public schools to collect data on the enrollment of children of unlawful residents and criminalizing the failure of illegal immigrants to complete or carry alien registration documents.

Blackburn’s ruling allowed Alabama to enforce the part of the law that makes failure to carry documentation a misdemeanor, as well as the school data portion of the law and a provision enabling police to take drivers arrested without a valid license before a magistrate for determination of their citizenship.

Unlicensed drivers found to be in the U.S. illegally can then be detained for prosecution or turned over to federal immigration agents.

Representatives of Bentley didn’t immediately return a call to the governor’s office today for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2746, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).

--With assistance from Andrew Harris in Chicago and Laurence Viele Davidson in Atlanta. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Fred Strasser

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at

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

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