WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday sought to repeal a harsh new Alabama law on immigration, setting up the latest clash between the White House and Republican state leaders over the thorny issue of undocumented migrants.

The Justice Department urged the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to overturn a ruling that let stand much of state law HB 56, which makes it a crime to be undocumented in Alabama and allows schools to check the immigrant status of students.

Opponents say the measures -- even harsher than the deeply controversial laws established last year in Arizona -- are largely unconstitutional and amount to racial profiling, while supporters insist the state is merely implementing policy that Washington has been too weak to enforce itself.

"The sweeping scheme is highly likely to expose persons lawfully in the United States, including school children, to new difficulties in routine dealings with private persons and the state," Justice said in its filing.

It argued that the law "creates a panoply of new state offenses that criminalize, among other things, an alien's failure to comply with federal registration requirements... an alien's attempt to solicit or perform work, and an alien's attempt to interact with... government."

The Department of Justice also insisted the provisions "invade the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration," and asked the court to issue an injunction pending the appeal.

Application of the law began late last month, with police being given the order to act under the new guidelines, and Governor Robert Bentley called it "a victory for Alabama."

Assistant attorney general Tony West argued in the appeals filing that the law "invites discrimination" against foreign-born citizens, including legal residents, by making it a crime for a landlord to rent housing to an unlawfully present alien, invalidating contracts with such immigrants, even targeting school-age children with an alien registration system.

"News accounts confirm that the law is having its intended but impermissible consequences of driving aliens from the state... (or) inducing many parents to keep their children home from school due to fear about the state's immigration policy."

Tough immigration laws in two other states, Utah and Georgia, were suspended this year by court order after immigrant advocacy groups filed suit.

President Barack Obama has called for comprehensive immigration reform that would include strengthening borders, but also granting a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

His Republican rivals have rejected what they say would amount to an "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

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