published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Groups try to halt Georgia immigration law

By KATE BRUMBACK

Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Civil liberties groups on today filed a request urging a federal judge to immediately block Georgia’s crackdown on illegal immigration from taking effect until a pending legal challenge is resolved.

The groups are asking a judge to stop the law from taking effect until a class-action lawsuit they filed last week concludes. That lawsuit claims the crackdown violates state and federal law and asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and to keep authorities from enforcing it, but it did not include the request for an injunction.

Because most parts of the law are set to take effect July 1, the groups also asked for an expedited hearing on the motion.

The lawsuit names Gov. Nathan Deal and several other state officials as defendants.

A spokeswoman for Deal last week said the law was carefully vetted by the General Assembly to ensure that it is constitutional. The law’s author Matt Ramsey said last week he wouldn’t be surprised if the law was temporarily blocked but said he believes the state will ultimately prevail in the courts.

The measure authorizes law enforcement to check the immigration status of a suspect who cannot provide identification and to detain and hand over to federal authorities anyone found to be in the country illegally. It also penalizes people who, during the commission of another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.

Opponents of the law have said it encourages racial profiling and will harm the state’s economy. Supporters say it’s necessary because illegal immigrants are a drain on the state’s resources.

Georgia’s law has some provisions that echo those in a law enacted last year in Arizona and is also very similar to another enacted this year in Utah.

A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s law last year after the U.S. Department of Justice sued, arguing the law intrudes on the federal government’s exclusive powers to regulate immigration. A federal appeals court judge upheld the decision and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ACLU and other civil liberties groups filed a complaint claiming that the Utah law was an unconstitutional burden to legal immigrants and too much like portions of Arizona’s immigration law. A federal judge last month temporarily blocked that law, citing similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona’s law. A hearing is set for mid-July to determine if the law can go into effect.

Another section of the Georgia law set to be phased in starting in January will require many businesses to check the immigration status of new hires. An Arizona law with the same requirement was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit filed last week does not take issue with that part of the Georgia law.

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