MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Civil rights groups sued Friday in federal court to block Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, which supporters and opponents have called the strictest measure of its kind in the nation.
The lawsuit claims the law will make criminals out of church workers who provide shelter to immigrants and citizens who give immigrants a ride to the store or to the doctor's office. "This law interferes with the free exercise of religion. It criminalizes acts of love and hospitality," said Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries.
The lawsuit, filed in Huntsville, said the law is of "unprecedented reach" and goes beyond similar laws passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states. The suit asks a judge to declare Alabama's law unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced.
Alabama's law, which takes effect Sept. 1, allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if the person is stopped for some other reason. It requires businesses to check the legal status of new workers and requires schools to report the immigration status of students.
Matthew Webster was among the individuals who joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. He and his wife, who live in the community of Alabaster, south of Birmingham, are adopting two boys who are in the country illegally. Webster said he feared the boys could face deportation. "This criminalizes me and my wife for harboring and transporting these kids."
A sponsor of the bill, House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, a Republican from Decatur, said he is confident the courts will find that the law passes constitutional muster.