Federal Judge Hears Arguments on Georgia’s Anti-Immigrant Law

A decision is expected to be made before July 1, when HB 87 is scheduled to take effect.

By Asraa Mustufa Jun 22, 2011

A federal judge heard arguments for and against Georgia’s recently signed immigration enforcement law, modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070.  A host of civil and immigrant rights groups asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction on the law, blocking it from implementation pending the outcome of their lawsuit. A decision is expected to be made before July 1, when HB 87 is scheduled to take effect.

Opponents of the law say that it violates the supremacy clause by usurping the federal government’s exclusive right to create and enforce immigration law. They also argue that it’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment by allowing police to detain people for extended periods of time while investigating their immigration status. The law also creates new state crimes of knowingly transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants while committing another crime, encouraging undocumented people to come to the sate, and presenting false documents when applying for a job.

In addition to addressing issues of constitutionality, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash questioned the law’s practicality, suggesting that it could not be enforced consistently across the state and would allow individual jurisdictions too much discretion. He also asked Senior Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland if the purpose of the law was to drive all undocumented immigrants out of Georgia. Orland argued that undocumented immigrants were costing Georgia millions of dollars by burdening hospitals and jails during a time of high unemployment, to which Thrash asked how putting more of those immigrants in jail would save the state money.

Thrash also repeatedly used the example of an 18-year-old U.S. citizen getting pulled over while driving an undocumented immigrant parent, and if that would constitute a crime under HB 87. Orland said that it would.

"What’s going to happen on July 1 to people associated with illegal aliens?" Thrash asked. "They’re supposed to go somewhere else with their husbands, wives, and children…even if they’re citizens?" Orland responded that the law was harsh but not unconstitutional.

"I think we were able to show how if this law were to go into affect, how our plaintiffs will be harmed," Azadeh Shahshahani of the the Georgia ACLU told Colorlines. "We know that racial profiling is already happening in Georgia, affecting people of color, affecting immigrants, and so the implementation of this law will in essence provide a blank check to the police to engage in further racial profiling and targeting of the people of color in Georgia."

The law has already begun affecting undocumented immigrant communities in the state. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that many immigrants fear having to leave Georgia, and have begun preparing accordingly. Farmers in the state have also complained that the law is driving away migrant workers needed to harvest labor-intensive crops this June. HB 87 requires businesses with more than 10 employees to use the federal E-Verify database to check job applicants’ immigration status, a program that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

Similar legal challenges are being made against strict anti-immigrant bills passed in other states. A temporary injunction was issued against Utah’s immigration enforcement bill last month, and the ACLU is filing a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s anti-immigration law. Indiana’s less severe immigration law is also being challenged as unconstitutional. In May, Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer said that her state will appeal the injunction that blocked key portions of SB 1070 on the eve of its implementation last summer to the Supreme Court.

Advocates are hopeful that the judge’s line of questioning during Monday’s hearing indicates that Georgia’s immigration enforcement law will be put on hold ahead of its July 1st implementation date.

"We believe that Georiga is not a ‘show me your papers state’, and we also believe that we don’t live in a police state. We don’t live in a country where the police should be able to demand papers from people whom they encounter," Shahshahani said.