[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Monday filed a complaint [text, PDF] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] challenging an Alabama law [HB 56 text] that expands restrictions on undocumented immigrants. The DOJ contends that various provisions of the Alabama immigration legislation are preempted by federal law and violate the Supremacy Clause [text] of the Constitution. Specifically, the measures that permit police officers to detain a person stopped for a traffic violation if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally, the DOJ argues, are unconstitutional. The DOJ also maintains that the state legislation disrupts the balance of federal interests in regulating immigration. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] said the state’s immigration law conflicts with federal law and its enforcement requires significant resources [DOJ press release]:
DHS continues to enforce federal immigration laws in Alabama and around the country in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor, as well as continue to secure our border. Legislation like this diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve. We continue to support comprehensive reform of our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.
The DOJ expressed similar sentiments in its complaint. The DOJ is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect on September 1.
The Alabama immigration legislation, which was signed into law [JURIST report] by Governor Robert Bentley [official website] in June, is one of the most rigid immigration reform laws passed recently. In addition to authorizing detention of individuals on reasonable suspicion they are illegal immigrants, the law provides harsh restrictions on employment for illegal immigrants. Businesses cited multiple times for hiring undocumented workers could lose their business licenses. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from applying for a job, and anyone transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants will be punished by a fine or jail time. A group of immigrants filed a lawsuit in an Alabama state court [JURIST report] just last week arguing that the Alabama immigration law conflicts with the Alabama Constitution [text], which expressly encourages immigration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) [advocacy websites] and several other civil rights groups jointly filed [JURIST report] a motion for preliminary injunction [text, PDF] earlier in July in an effort to prevent the Alabama immigration law from taking effect. Similar laws have been passed in Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports]. Federal courts have enjoined the laws in Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports].