Churches lose fight over Ala. immigration law

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- A federal judge jolted the national immigration debate on Sept. 28 by approving most parts of Alabama’s aggressive immigration law that religious leaders had called the “meanest” in the nation.

In a ruling hailed by many state officials, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to block much of Alabama’s far-reaching immigration law from going into effect.

Blackburn’s decision came after three separate challenges were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice; Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist bishops; and a coalition of civil rights groups, unions and individuals who said they would be harmed by the law.

The Justice Department argued that immigration law enforcement rests with the federal government, and that states could not set up their own systems. Blackburn disagreed, saying Alabama’s efforts mirrored the federal government’s or were complementary.

Plaintiffs, led by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, said they will seek an emergency delay of Blackburn’s order pending an appeal to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.