The standoff has been 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 balked and, in a series of blunt replies, questioned the federal government’s authority to demand the information. The state education department had advised school districts not to comply, but this week expressed a willingness to cooperate.
The disagreement , which 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 have emerged as a key part of the administration’s efforts on immigration and could serve as a counterpoint to growing criticism in the Hispanic activist community over President Obama’s stepped-up deportation program.
The Alabama law is considered the toughest of six new state immigration statutes,
which include provisions giving police new authority to question legal status, among other things.
The dispute has stirred memories of Alabama’s segregationist past, with accusations that the law targets Hispanics. A civil rights group compared Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to then-Gov. George C. Wallace (D) 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, vehemently rejected the Wallace comparison and said he would not tolerate discrimination. Supporters of the law defended the attorney general and said concerns about racial profiling of Hispanics are overstated.
“That’s a poisonous thing to say,” said Strange, who defeated Wallace’s son, George Wallace Jr., in a 2006 primary for lieutenant governor.
Legal experts say the level of federal intervention over the immigration laws is extraordinary, particularly since the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have obtained rulings temporarily blocking all or key parts of the Utah, Georgia and Indiana measures. Federal courts also have blocked the most contested provisions
of Arizona’s law.