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Georgia immigration law taken to court

The ACLU and other civil rights groups file suit against legislation that allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of criminal suspects.

June 02, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • David Barrera, 16, an undocumented immigrant, joins fellow students in a walk-out from Douglas County High School to protest Georgia's new anti-immigration law.
David Barrera, 16, an undocumented immigrant, joins fellow students in… (David Goldman / Associated…)

Several civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to halt Georgia's stringent new immigration law that would allow law enforcement to check the legal status of criminal suspects and force many businesses to do the same with potential employees.

The groups claim that Georgia's House Bill 87 is preempted by federal law and are asking a federal judge to deem the law unconstitutional and block state authorities from enforcing it.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several other groups and individuals filed the lawsuit in Atlanta's federal district court.

The law allows authorities to check the immigration status of criminal suspects who do not produce a valid ID and to detain and turn over to federal authorities those who are found to be in the country illegally.

Among other things, the law outlaws the transporting or harboring of illegal immigrants while knowingly committing another crime.

Most provisions in the law are scheduled to take effect July 1.

The law will establish a "show-me-your-papers regime," and encourages racial profiling, said Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

Pieces of the law bear resemblance to portions of the controversial Arizona immigration law, known as SB 1070, that were struck down in federal court, Jadwat said. "We're confident that a federal court will strike down this law as well," he said.

But Georgia lawmakers and supporters of the law said they crafted the legislation to withstand a legal challenge. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed the legislation into law last month.

"These organizations falsely claim HB 87 is a copycat of Arizona's legislation. It is not," said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal. "The Georgia General Assembly carefully vetted a piece of legislation that ensured a constitutional final product."

Some of the most controversial provisions of the Arizona law were struck down in federal court after the Obama administration argued that they hindered the federal government's exclusive authority to create and enforce immigration policies.

Among the blocked provisions is the requirement that law enforcement check the immigration status of people they lawfully stop and whom they suspect to be in the country illegally. The ruling was upheld in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in April.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters of the Georgia law also argue that the Supreme Court indicated that state efforts to rein in illegal immigration are constitutional when it recently upheld an Arizona law that allows the state to revoke business licenses of employers who hire illegal immigrants.

That decision does not change precedent of immigration being exclusively under federal oversight, which the Georgia law violates, said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center.

Last month, a federal judge halted a Utah law similar to the Georgia measure, citing its similarities to the Arizona law that is being disputed in federal court.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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