On June 9, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed what is now the nation’s most radical anti-immigration measure into law. As Arizona’s “SB-1070 on Steroids,” the Alabama law not only allows police officers to stop and detain anyone they suspect of being undocumented but requires state schools to collect student citizenship information. But before the law can go into effect on September 1, several civil rights groups and state organizations are suing to overturn the measure because it violates the state constitution.
Now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is following suit. On top of the fact that the law “is designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant’s daily life” and could even target “legal immigrants and U.S. citizens,” the DOJ declared that “a state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws.”
On the same day, the state’s Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches filed a separate lawsuit against the law, saying the law unconstitutionally interferes with the right of religious freedom. Representing 338,000 Alabamans, the religious leaders say the law “will make it a crime to follow God’s command” and denounce it as “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.”
According to the lawsuit, “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 states.
The lawsuit states that it seeks to prevent “irreparable harm” to the 338,000 members of the three churches in Alabama. It calls Alabama’s new law “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.”
“If enforced, Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans,” according to the lawsuit.
Church officials also worry that the law, if enforced, will put church members in the “untenable position of verifying individuals’ immigration documentation” before being able to provide food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.
For what it’s worth, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit is far more likely to succeed than the churches’ suit. The Supreme Court recognized more than 70 years ago “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation,” but it has also held that laws that apply universally to religious groups and non-religious groups alike do not violate religious freedom. Nevertheless, the church’s lawsuit lends an important moral voice against Alabama’s cruel and ill advised policy.
DOJ was successful in securing a temporary injunction against Arizona’s anti-immigration law last year. While civil rights groups have filed lawsuits against five states that passed copycat laws this year, the DOJ’s filling yesterday “marks the first time the department has intervened this year.”