To nobody’s surprise, several lawsuits have been filed challenging Alabama’s new immigration law. From all accounts the prospects for the law being upheld are not very good. It is most significant that the U.S. Justice Department challenged the law last month in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham. According to the Justice Department, the new law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority over immigration. The lawsuit seeks “to declare invalid and preliminarily and permanently enjoin the enforcement of various provisions” of the state law. The Complaint states that provisions of Alabama’s immigration law “are preempted by federal law and therefore violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.”
In another important and highly-significant filing, leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in Alabama sued in federal court to stop enforcement of the new law. They say the law could strike at the core of their ability to worship. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr., Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama; Rev. William H. Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church; the Most Rev. Thomas J. Rodi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Mobile; and the Most Rev. Robert J. Baker, Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham. Their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern Alabama, says:
The bishops have reason to fear that administering of religious sacraments, which are central to the Christian faith, to known undocumented persons may be criminalized under this law. Motivated by God’s mandate that the faithful are humbly bound to welcome and care for all people, the leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches of Alabama respectfully request this Court to stop the enforcement of Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent “irreparable harm” to the 338,000 members of the three churches in Alabama. The Complaint calls Alabama’s new law “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation,” and states that “If enforced, Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.” The law, if enforced, will place Alabama church members in the “untenable position of verifying individuals’ immigration documentation” before being able to provide things such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation to those in need, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that the new law violates the First Amendment rights of its members; rights of Alabama residents to freely assemble “and welcome all people to the altar;” and the ability of the churches to freely contract through the management of denominational thrift stores and church day cares and the performance of marriages, baptisms, and counseling services.
In another important development, Mexico and 15 other nations filed briefs against the Alabama law, saying it threatened the rights of their citizens and raised “substantial challenges” to the countries’ relationship with the United States. Ed Still, a Birmingham lawyer who filed the briefs on behalf of the nations, had this to say:
They want to make sure their citizens are treated correctly, and they have a sovereign interest in the way in which immigration law is carried out by the United States. They want to have one immigration law and not 50.
In its brief, Mexico says it wants to ensure its citizens are treated fairly while in the United States. The brief says that “Mexico has an interest in protecting its citizens and ensuring that their ethnicity is not used as basis for state-sanctioned acts of bias and discrimination.” Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay joined in a single brief filed in the case.
It’s my opinion, shared by real constitutional experts, the Alabama law is unconstitutional. If that is true, then all of the lawsuits should be successful. U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn has issued an order consolidating the three separate lawsuits. As this issue was headed to the printer, a hearing was held in Birmingham before Judge Blackburn, who indicated that the Act, as passed, had some serious problems. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to report on the result of the hearing.
More groups, from both inside and outside Alabama, also filed briefs in opposition to the law, including our state’s NAACP chapter which calls the law “a modern attempt to legalize racism in Alabama.” So far, more than 50 groups have filed briefs supporting a preliminary injunction being issued to stop enforcement of the new law. The deadline has passed for groups to file amicus curiae — or friend of the court — briefs for the federal court to consider their arguments supporting or opposing a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the controversial law.
Several lawyers groups, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Alabama Education Association and National Education Association have also filed briefs. The AEA and NEA brief says:
Since 1982, it has been settled law that states may not deny children a public education based on their immigration status. Because the educational provisions of HB 56 (the state immigration law) operate to do just that, the provisions are unconstitutional in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Other groups filing in opposition include the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, the South Alabama Center for Fair Housing, and the National Fair Housing Alliance, Inc. It’s stated in their brief that the law makes it a crime to “harbor” an alien by renting the alien a place to live and that it would “put landlords in the untenable position of having to choose between compliance with Alabama’s new law or compliance with the Fair Housing Act.” Interestingly, in its response, the state’s lawyers say the new law expressly and repeatedly prohibits unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. As I have repeatedly said, it makes absolutely no sense to pass a law that appears to be unconstitutional. The combined expense of defending the law in court and enforcing it statewide – at a time where money simply isn’t available at any level of government – will be tremendous. Most believe it’s an expense that we can’t afford.
Some believe passage of this bill bordered on irresponsibility. A few of the bill’s proponents remind me of “Don Quixote de la Mancha” from the novel. In the past, we have had our share of politicians in Alabama who were very good at “tilting at windmills” for political advantage and at this juncture we don’t need any more of that sort of thing in our state.
Source: AL.com and Montgomery Advertiser
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