Immigration law getting test in court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Whether you were for, against or weren’t interested in Alabama’s new immigration bill approved by the legislature this past spring, you care more the outcome of a federal lawsuit challenging the law than you think.

The law requires police to attempt to determine the residency status of suspected illegal immigrants. It also it makes it a crime for immigrants to work or solicit work, and prohibits landlords from renting to them. Among other things, it would prevent illegals from receiving state or local public benefits and bar them from enrolling in public colleges.

That bill will get its first test in federal court today, when the U.S. Justice Department, Alabama church leaders, interest groups and individual plaintiffs ask U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn to block implementation of the law, scheduled Sept. 1.

Alabama’s law covers more ground than immigration laws passed by Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah, which have been blocked at least temporarily by federal courts. None have reached the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department says Alabama’s law violates many Constitutional rights, and usurps federal authority over immigration. Alabama argues that the state has been harmed in numerous ways by illegal immigration.

Yet Alabama’s Commissioner of Agriculture, John McMillan, who will be in town today, is expected to talk about how the new law negatively impacts farmers.

Leaders of the United Methodist, Episcopal and Catholic churches say the law will harm their ministries, including transporting, caring for and offering housing and other services to church members who may be here illegally.

Still think you don’t care? No matter how many generations of your ancestors have been American citizens, the bill affects you, too. Language in the law requires people to present documents in person to prove citizenship to renew licenses and tags. That means no online tag renewals, creating longer lines at the courthouse and increasing administrative costs (i.e., needing more employees). In a state that’s already laying off employees and is strapped for cash, that’s not good news.

The law also requires teachers and school administrators to audit the citizenship of their students and families. If there is one thing that educators don’t need, it’s more paperwork.

There are many, many reasons to hope that Judge Blackburn issues at least a temporary injunction halting implementation of this law.