Alabama’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration, widely considered the toughest such law in the nation, was challenged in federal court Friday by opponents who argued that many of its provisions — including bans on knowingly driving illegal immigrants and renting them property — were unconstitutional.
The law signed by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley last month is one of a number of recent bills approved by state lawmakers frustrated by what they say is Washington’s failure to address the presence of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Thus far, however, federal courts have temporarily suspended portions of laws in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia, including those sections giving police broader immigration enforcement powers. Courts have blocked a Utah law in its entirety.
Civil rights groups have vowed to sue to stop a similar law signed June 27 by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
At issue is the extent to which states may set immigration policy, traditionally a federal prerogative. Fresh answers may soon come from the U.S. Supreme Court: In May, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said her state would ask the high court to lift a temporary injunction preventing parts of the state’s controversial law, known as SB 1070, from taking effect.
The broader immigration issue, meanwhile, continues to roil even those parts of the country where lawmakers have taken a more conciliatory approach. This week in Maryland, a recent law to grant illegal immigrants in-state college tuition breaks was suspended after opponents gathered enough signatures to place the matter before voters in a 2012 referendum.
The Alabama measure requires police, in the course of any arrest or traffic stop, to try to determine a person’s residency status, given a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an immigrant — unless doing so would hinder an investigation.
Friday’s lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include unions, individuals, and social service groups, alleges the law would result in racial profiling, subjecting many to “unlawful interrogations, searches, seizures and arrests” — a throwback to “the worst aspects of Alabama’s history.”
Among other things, the suit argues the law will hinder due process and violate the Constitution’s contracts clause by deeming invalid civil contracts knowingly entered into with an illegal immigrant.
One plaintiff, the AIDS Action Coalition, would be barred from “harboring” illegal immigrants in its buildings, taking them to medical appointments, and helping them find rental housing, the suit said.
Another plaintiff, an Alabama-born man named Matt Webster, is in the process of adopting two young orphans who are in the country illegally. He and his wife plan to apply for the boys’ citizenship after the adoption goes through. But in the meantime, the suit notes, the new law will make it illegal for him to drive the boys anywhere.
“Lawsuits have been filed in every state that has passed a strong immigration bill,” Bentley’s spokeswoman, Rebekah Mason, said in a statement. "...Gov. Bentley supports having a strong Immigration law in Alabama.”