By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/1/2011 5:57:23 PM ET 2011-08-01T21:57:23

The Justice Department on Monday brought a legal challenge to Alabama's tough new immigration law, opening up a new front in the battle between states and the Obama administration over immigration enforcement.

The Alabama law goes even further than a similar law in Arizona, which sparked an earlier lawsuit from the government that is now working its way through the courts.

"Alabama's law is designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant's daily life, from employment to housing to transportation to entering into and enforcing contracts to going to school," the Justice Department said in filing the lawsuit.

The department says Alabama's law violates the Constitution by seeking to take over immigration enforcement, which the government claims is a federal domain.

The Alabama law makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally. It goes further than Arizona's law in expanding opportunities for police to put immigrants in jail.

On Monday, state officials said the new law will not prevent any child — including illegal immigrants — from enrolling in Alabama's public schools. Even so, all schools are required to keep records on the number of children of undocumented workers in school, and civil rights groups have said these requirements are so intimidating that many parents may simply decline to send their children. 

Story: Groups seek to block tough Alabama immigration law

The state law also makes it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to try to find work or attempt to interact with state or local government. It forbids landlords from renting to anyone who is in the United States illegally and bans state courts from honoring contracts to which illegal immigrants are a party.

The Justice Department is also considering whether to sue Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah over their tough new immigration laws. "To the extent that we find these laws interfere with the federal government's enforcement of immigration law, we will take the appropriate legal action," said Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who is in charge of the department's civil division.

Enforcement of the laws in Georgia, Indiana, and Utah have been blocked by preliminary court decisions. South Carolina's law doesn't go into effect until next year.

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Video: Alabama's immigration law under fire

  1. Closed captioning of: Alabama's immigration law under fire

    >>> the justice department has filed suit challenging another tough state immigration law . alabama law set to take effect september 1st was passed and signed by the governor in june and subject of protests and civil suits already. pete williams joins us live now from washington. pete, alabama 's law goes a bit further here than arizona's controversial immigration law which the federal government challenged last year.

    >> that is right. that law has been put on hold by the federal courts , and opponents of of the alabama law says it goes more than a bit further than the arizona law, but it gives the police in alabama more power to detain people suspected of being in country illegally and to ask them for the papers and detain them if they don't carry their papers and it also requires that any parents or children who seek to be enrolled in the public elementary schools in alabama must prove they are here legally. if they are not here legally, the children can at the end school, but what proponents of the law say that the mere fact that the state requires them to demonstrate that the child is here legally for record-keeping purposes would discourage many parents from enrolling the children, and by the way the u.s. stream couupreme court ruled even i f a child is here illegally, they must be afforded a education in the public schools . and this would make it illegal for them to do business with the state and get work and invalidate any contracts with people here illegally and also say that landlords cannot rent any property to people illegally, and the justice department says that all of the things are federal law domain and not state laws, and that the state is basically going where it can't go under the federal constitution . now, defenders of the alabama law say that they want to make it very clear that illegal immigrants are not welcome in the state, and that they are here illegally and they have no right to be here and they don't want the folks to be coming into alabama and trying to get work which they say is the magnet for drawing the illegalle immigrants into the united states in the first place. there are new laws that the justice department is looking at and recently passed immigration rules that are strict in indiana, and utah and colorado are held because of court rulings and also in south carolina , another one that is going to go into effect next year, and lawmakers say they will look into those as well.

    >> and they are saying they are waiting for the federal law to do something fobt about immigration, but intiuntil then,

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