U.S. Government sues Alabama over anti-immigrant law

The Department of Justice yesterday filed a legal claim to block the implementation of Alabama's H.B. 56, which it believes violates the U.S. Constitution. The law, which is being challenged by the federal government, would go into effect on September 1.

H.B. 56 is considered the most restrictive of all state anti-immigrant measures passed so far - even more so than Arizona's S.B. 1070. This bill would make it illegal to transport and assist undocumented immigrants and walk the streets without identification documents. It would also require schools to verify the legal status of students and report undocumented aliens to immigration authorities. Among other measures, H.B. 56 gives extraordinary powers to local police to arrest people if they have reasonable doubt that they are undocumented.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Alabama, the Justice Department points out that several provisions of H.B. 56 preempt federal law and that enforcement of this law could result in "harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal immigrants and even U.S. citizens who cannot promptly demonstrate their lawful status." It therefore seeks its repeal.

In a press releaseWhile the federal government values assistance and cooperation in the enforcement of immigration laws, a state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal authorities," the Department of Justice clarified.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that "setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be replaced by a set of state laws."

The police chief of the City of Birmingham has expressed concern that this law would impair the police department's ability to effectively protect the community by forcing it to use its scarce resources to enforce immigration laws.