U.S. Justice Department fights immigration law
Posted on November 21, 2011
The Obama administration’s legal campaign against restrictive state immigration laws has led to a bitter standoff in Alabama, where Justice Department attorneys are investigating possible civil rights violations.
The federal government already has sued Alabama over its new law, one of three such lawsuits against states that have cracked down on illegal immigration. Now, the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation to monitor potential discrimination as parts of the Alabama law take effect.
The standoff is over Justice’s request for detailed enrollment data from Alabama schools, part of the probe into complaints that the law has prompted Hispanic families to pull their children from school. But Alabama’s attorney general has balked and, in a series of blunt replies, questioned the federal government’s authority to demand the information. The state education department has advised school districts not to comply.
The deadlock, which shows no sign of ending and could lead to a second Justice Department lawsuit, comes after the administration last year sued Arizona and, two weeks ago, filed suit against South Carolina. Government lawyers are also considering challenges to laws in Utah, Georgia and Indiana.
The lawsuits are a key part of the administration’s civil rights efforts on behalf of immigrants, a top priority even as President Obama is under fire from Hispanic groups over his stepped-up deportation policies.
The Alabama law is considered the toughest of six new state immigration statutes, which include provisions giving the police new authority to question legal status, among other things. At least 17 other states have considered such measures this year.
The dispute has stirred painful memories of Alabama’s segregationist past, with accusations that the law targets Hispanics. A civil rights group compared Alabama attorney general Luther Strange to former Alabama governor George Wallace, a Democrat, standing in front of a schoolhouse in 1963 as he resisted federal efforts to enroll black students at the University of Alabama.
“The intemperate language of (Strange’s) letter does remind us of George Wallace in the schoolhouse door,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which set up a hotline to monitor discrimination complaints over the immigration law. He said the hotline has received nearly 4,000 calls.
Strange, a Republican elected last year, rejected the Wallace comparison. Supporters of the law defended the attorney general and said talk of racial profiling of Hispanics is overstated.
18 Nov 2011