Alabama law on illegal immigration challenged


ATLANTA – An Alabama law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration usurps powers reserved for the federal government, a US Justice Department official has told a three-judge federal appeals court panel.

The federal government sued in August to block the law.

“The regulation of immigration is a matter exclusively for the federal government,” deputy assistant US attorney general Beth Brinkmann told judges of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit in oral arguments on the Obama administration’s challenge of the law’s legality.

The law, considered the nation’s toughest state measure on illegal immigration, took effect in September. It requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect of being in the country illegally. Other parts of the law make it a felony for illegal immigrants to apply for or renew driving licences, identification cards or licence plates.

The federal government is also suing Arizona over its law cracking down on illegal immigration, with the US Supreme Court scheduled to hear oral arguments on April 25th.

Alabama’s law goes further than Arizona’s, requiring public schools to obtain the birth certificates of children upon enrolment, among other provisions. In October, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the school reporting requirement. The court also suspended a provision that made failing to carry documents proving legal residency status a misdemeanour crime.

Under the US constitution’s supremacy clause, federal laws and regulations trump conflicting state laws. But when Congress passed the major federal immigration laws, it did not clearly indicate whether it intended to bar state laws in the same field.

The Obama administration argues that federal immigration laws are so comprehensive that they take precedence over the Alabama and Arizona laws. – (Reuters)