Alabama's law cracking down on illegal immigration is considered the strictest in the nation.

Story highlights

Justice Department: Alabama's law aims to force immigrants out

The law is unconstitutional, the Justice Department argues

Alabama officials have vowed to defend the law

Federal and state officials across the country clash over immigration


Alabama’s immigration law is unconstitutional and aims to threaten “the most basic human needs,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing.

“The Constitution leaves no room for such a state immigration-enforcement scheme,” the department said in a brief filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Monday.

The impact of Alabama’s immigration law is “clear and deliberate, designed in the language of the legislation’s sponsor, to force aliens to ‘deport themselves,’” the department’s filing said.

Alabama’s law cracking down on illegal immigration is considered the strictest in the nation. The U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Alabama over the measure is one of several battles in a nationwide skirmish between state federal officials over who controls immigration enforcement.

Monday’s brief outlining the federal government’s position argues that the federal government, not state authorities, control immigration enforcement. The brief asks the appeals court to block six parts of the Alabama law, including a provision requiring police to check immigration status during traffic stops and a measure requiring schools to determine the immigration status of students.

The brief says oral arguments in the case have been scheduled for the week of February 27.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law in June, has said it would not have been needed “if the federal government would have done its jobs and enforced the laws dealing with this problem. However, they have failed to do that.”

He added, “This law was never designed to hurt fellow human beings.”

In its legal briefs to the appeals court, Alabama has noted a 145% rise in its Hispanic population now numbering around 185,000, or 4% of the population. Lawmakers promoting the legislation said it was motivated mainly to protect jobs of the state’s citizens and legal residents.

In October, the appeals court temporarily blocked enforcement of some parts of the Alabama law while allowing other provisions to go into effect.

After that ruling, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange issued a statement vowing “to vigorously defend the law as we proceed through the appeals process.”

The Justice Department has also sued Arizona and South Carolina over immigration measures there, and is considering similar action against Utah, Indiana, and Georgia.

The U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately have the final say.

Earlier this month a group of Republican senators said they would attempt to block funding for the federal lawsuits.

“We’re working to stop these politically driven lawsuits by cutting off the ability for the Obama administration to use taxpayers’ money to pay for them,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, called it “absurd” for an administration “which has failed to enforce the nation’s immigration laws” to try to stop South Carolina, Alabama, and Arizona “from taking commonsense steps to protect citizens and uphold the law.”

CNN’s Bill Mears and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.