At Issue: U.S. Immigaration Policy
A Guatemalan illegal immigrant prepares to board a plane at a flight operations unit at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport during his deportation process in Mesa, Arizona July 10, 2009. REUTERS

A federal judge temporarily suspended a controversial immigration enforcement law in Alabama, ruling Monday that she needed more time to weigh lawsuits from the Obama administration, religious groups, and civil rights groups.

The law, which would empower police officers to check immigration status and tighten requirements for immigrants to secure work or a public education, was scheduled to take effect Thursday. But U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn barred its enforcement to give herself more time to weight the various arguments that the law is unconstitutional.

Her final decision could still allow some or all of the law to go into effect.

Opponents of the law lauded the decision, and they have received encouragement during hearings in which Blackburn expressed misgivings with the law. In particular, she questioned a provision requiring law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they detain.

There are a lot of problems with this statute, said Blackburn on Wednesday in reference to the police checks. My job is to decide if this is constitutional.

Critics have denounced the law as overly punitive and discriminatory, contending that certain measures make it impossible for immigrants to live their lives. For example, the law requires status checks before immigrants can enroll their children in school or obtain public housing. The American Civil Liberties Union, which helped bring one of the lawsuits, has argued that this violates the Equal Protection Clause's guarantee that no state shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

A state may not make it impossible for someone to live in this country, said William Orrick, attorney for the U.S. Justice Department.

Proponents argue that they are simply stepping up enforcement to help combat an influx of undocumented immigrants. But the federal government, outlining an argument similar to the one it made against Arizona's controversial immigration law, has argued that the law allocates to the state of Alabama enforcement powers that belong properly to the federal government.