MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge in Birmingham is poised to hear arguments from the Obama administration and others Wednesday over whether a new Alabama immigration law constitutes an unfair assault on civil liberties or is a long-overdue effort to protect American jobs and borders.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn scheduled a hearing starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday on motions seeking to temporarily block a new state law that's been described by supporters and opponents as the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in the country. Attorneys said they don't know when Blackburn will rule, but pointed out that she doesn't have much time because the immigration law is set to take effect Sept. 1.
The measure allows police officers, in conducting routine traffic stops, to arrest those they suspect of being illegal immigrants. The law's broad provisions also make it a crime to transport or provide shelter to an illegal immigrant. It also requires schools to report the immigration status of students, a provision opponents say will make many parents afraid to send their children to school.
The lawsuits challenging the law — filed by the Obama administration, a coalition of civil rights groups and church leaders — have all been consolidated before the chief federal judge from Alabama's northern district.
The challenges in Alabama are being closed watched nationwide. At issue is just how far Alabama can go in controlling illegal immigration. Injunctions have been issued against all or parts of similar immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah. Impacts are potentially wide-reaching as some Alabama farmers fret they won't find affordable workers to harvest crops and school officials worry over whether the children of illegal immigrants will be denied an education. One provision, critics say, may even create long lines at courthouses by requiring vehicle owners to show proof of citizenship when they buy tags.
The Obama administration argues in its lawsuit that enforcing immigration laws is the job of the federal government, not the states. Another challenge was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups including the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. A third lawsuit was filed by bishops of the Catholic, United Methodist and Episcopal churches in Alabama and claims the law makes it a crime for Christians to follow the Biblical instructions to be "Good Samaritans" and help one another.