BIRMINGHAM, AL - Alabama’s immigration law is in court today with attorneys from the Obama administration, civil rights groups and state churches arguing that the measure is an unconstitutional attack on civil liberties.
The new immigration law requiring that police officers check immigrants’ legal status might lead to lawsuits for unlawful detention, a judge said in a hearing on challenges to the statute.
“There are a lot of problems with this statute,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn in Birmingham, Alabama, said today in a hearing on three cases filed by the federal government, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Christian clergy. “My job is to decide if this is constitutional.”
William Orrick, attorney for the Justice Department, argued that the state is entering a field already occupied by federal government. And Alabama's law, he said, would harm the federal government's ability to conduct foreign relations, as well as disrupt national security prioities regarding immigration enforcement.
Orrick also said that provisions of the state law related to daily life, such as housing and education, are aimed at driving people out of Alabama. "A state may not make it impossible for someone to live in this country," said Orrick.
Cecilia Wang, attorney for ACLU, went next. She spoke about issues related to Fourth Amendment and law enforcement. She gave examples of someone who came to the United States illegally but has been approved for adjustment of immigration status and does not yet have papers. Under state law such a person could face criminal charges in Alabama even though his or her federal staus is in the process of changing.
U.S. Dsitrict Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said the language wasn't clear in some sections of the 72-page act, such as those related to police stops and detention of people suspected of being in the country illegally. She said the state could have spent a few more years working on the language on this section.
She also questioned the idea that the state could use birth certificates to determine the citizenship status of parents of schoolchildren.
The hearing, held in a packed courtroom with overflow seating, was to reconvene at 11:25 a.m.