The federal government asked an appeals court Friday to halt the Alabama immigration law considered by many the toughest in the U.S., saying it could have dire diplomatic consequences abroad, invites discrimination and merely forces illegal immigrants into neighboring states.
The motion, filed in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, claimed Alabama's new law is "highly likely to expose persons lawfully in the United States, including school children, to new difficulties in routine dealings."
A federal judge earlier upheld two key provisions in the law that allow authorities to question people suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them without bond, and let officials check the immigration status of students in public schools.
Those measures have already taken effect and will remain in effect while the appeals court weighs the Justice Department's request. The provisions help make the Alabama law stricter than similar laws passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges in those states have blocked all or parts of those measures.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement that the appeal came as no surprise.
"I remain committed to seeing that this law is fully implemented. We will continue to defend this law against any and all challenges," he said.
Immigration became a hot issue in Alabama over the past decade as the state's Hispanic population grew by 145 percent to about 185,600. While the group still represents only about 4 percent of the population, some counties in north Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Hispanic.
Alabama Republicans have long sought to clamp down on illegal immigration and passed the law earlier this year after gaining control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Bentley signed it, saying it was vital to protect the jobs of legal residents.
The measure has already had an immediate impact.