The Obama administration is appealing a judge's decision in Alabama that upheld key parts of the nation's strictest state immigration law, including requirements for the police and school officials to question the status of persons, including children, who may be in the country illegally.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn cleared the way Wednesday for much of Alabama's new law to take effect. School officials now face the task of determining the citizenship of newly enrolled students.
Late Friday, the Justice Department filed a motion asking for the judge's decision to be put on hold temporarily so the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta can weigh the issue.
"Alabama has no authority to regulate in the area of immigration," the department's lawyers said. By contrast, they said, the "federal government's authority in matters of immigration is plenary and exclusive."
The government's lawyers say immigration violations are a civil matter, not a crime.
"The Alabama provisions ... make unlawful presence a criminal offense and render unlawfully present aliens a unique class who cannot lawfully obtain housing, enforce a contract, or send their children to school without fear that enrollment will used as a tool to seek to detain and remove them and their family members," they said.
Last year, the Obama administration sued Arizona and won rulings that blocked S.B. 1070, its strict new measure. Gov. Jan Brewer appealed the issue to the Supreme Court last month.
The justices are likely to take up the case later this year to decide how far states can go to enforce the U.S. immigration laws.