SPLC, others file suit to stop Ala. immigration law

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is making good on a promise to fight Alabama's tough new illegal immigration law. The organization Friday, along with several other civil rights groups, filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court to challenge the law's constitutionality.

Governor Robert Bentley's office issued a short statement saying, "Lawsuits have been filed in every state that has passed a strong immigration bill. Governor Bentley campaigned on the need for a strong Immigration Bill. The Legislature passed that bill, and the Governor signed it. Governor Bentley supports having a strong Immigration Law in Alabama."

The law doesn't take effect until September 1.

Using the Civil Rights Memorial Center in downtown Montgomery as a backdrop for its announcement, the SPLC's Mary Baurer said, "This law revisits the state's painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents. It should never become the law of the land."

"I'm not sure what part of the word 'illegal' some people don't understand," said Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). "In Alabama, we believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all citizens. It isn't fair to the generations of immigrants who have come to this country legally for us to look the other way while others break the law and cheat the system."

The SPLC said the new law, considered one of the toughest in the nation, is proof that the Jim Crow era continues in Alabama.

One of the bill's co-sponsors, Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur), reacted to the news saying, "It is no surprise that liberal groups working to shield those who live here illegally are trying to block implementation of our state immigration statute." Hammon said the bill was crafted after careful consideration of existing law, and he predicted it will survive court challenges.

The SPLC is joined by a bevy of organizations in its fight. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, the National Immigration Law Center, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Asian American Justice Center are all involved in the suit.

The suit challenges the law's constitutionality based on the grounds that it violates the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which gives the federal government the power to regulate immigration. It also alleges that the new law will subject U.S. citizens and permanent residents to unlawful search and seizure.

"It is important to note that our law seeks to protect immigrants who reside here legally while affecting only those who break our laws with their simple presence," Hammon said. "We cannot turn a blind eye toward those who thumb their noses at our borders and our laws."

Alabama is the fifth state to enact immigration legislation, modeling itself after the controversial law passed in Arizona. Other states include Georgia, Utah and Indiana. Federal courts have consistently blocked implementation of the Arizona-style laws.

"Alabama's HB 56 comes at the unacceptably high cost of sacrificing the U. S. Constitution," said Olivia Turner, executive director, ACLU of Alabama. "This law, if allowed to stand, will create a two-tiered system of justice in Alabama, which all Alabamians should fight against, In the nearly fifty years since the historical and worldwide movement for civil and human rights began in our state, real progress has been made..."

"If the federal government won't enforce its own laws and protect Alabama, we must protect ourselves," Speaker Hubbard responded.

A court date for a hearing on the lawsuit has yet to be determined.

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