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U.S. seeks immediate stay of Alabama immigration law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration sought an immediate order on Friday to block Alabama's strict new immigration law pending appeal, arguing it was already driving immigrants out of the state.

The Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, to stay the law after a federal judge in Alabama refused to do so because she said the government had not established there would be substantial harm to the public interest.

The controversial state law allows police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot show proper documentation when stopped by authorities for any reason.

The law also permits the state to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children and bars illegal immigrants from getting a driver's license or business license. U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld those provisions of the law last week.

The Obama administration has already appealed her ruling to the 11th Circuit, arguing that it interferes with the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration. In addition to seeking a temporary stay pending appeal, the Justice Department asked that the case be expedited.

"News accounts confirm that the law is having its intended but impermissible consequences of driving aliens from the state," the Justice Department said in its emergency stay request, adding that parents were already keeping their children home from school.

The Alabama law passed both chambers of the Republican-led legislature by large margins earlier this year, with lawmakers saying Obama administration had not done enough to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

"The Obama Administration is all talk and no action on dealing with this nation's illegal immigration problem," Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard said in a statement, adding he believed the federal government had "willfully relinquished its responsibility to enforce its immigration law."

"Instead of taking a leadership role in fixing this country's broken immigration system, President Obama wants to impose his attitude of inaction on our state," he said.

Several states have passed new laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, arguing the Obama administration was not doing enough to deter it. There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Federal judges in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana previously have blocked parts of similar state laws aimed at trying to stem illegal immigration.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and Peggy Gargis in Birmingham; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Johnston)

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