MONTGOMERY, Ala.- A coalition of civil rights groups asked a federal judge Thursday to block Alabama's tough new illegal immigration law from taking effect Sept. 1.
The request was filed in federal court in Huntsville by the same groups that already have sued over the law, which opponents and supporters say is the toughest of its kind in the nation.
Federal courts have blocked all or parts of similar laws passed in four other states. Alabama's law allows police to detain people they suspect of being illegal immigrants after a traffic stop, requires schools to report the immigration status of students and makes it illegal knowingly to transport or give shelter to an illegal immigrant.
The motion filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights groups calls the law blatantly unconstitutional and asks a judge to stop it before it harms Alabama residents. An attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Sam Brooke, said the motion seeks to stop the law from taking effect until the courts have issued a final ruling on the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has filed a motion claiming the original lawsuit is vague, repetitive and does not give a legal reason for why the new law should be thrown out. Strange's motion asks U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn to order the plaintiffs to rewrite the original lawsuit and provide a clearer explanation of what's wrong with the law.
Strange's motion challenges one statement in the original lawsuit that compared the new immigration law to "the worst aspects of Alabama's history," referring to the state's segregationist past. Strange's motion calls that language "impertinent and scandalous" and asks that it be removed from the lawsuit.
Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard said the lawsuit would not undo the law.
"If the court finds problems with parts of the law, tweaks can be made," Hubbard said. "Alabama will have a strict immigration law, and we will enforce it."
Supporters of the new law have argued that it only involves the activities of illegal immigrants and that anyone who is in the country legally or who is a U.S. citizen should not be concerned.
But Brooke said the law involves average Alabamians in immigration decisions by making it illegal for them to enter into a contract or even give a ride to the store to an illegal immigrant.
"You as a private citizen have no way of knowing what the immigration status is of a person," Brooke said.