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Rights Groups File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Georgia Immigration Law

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action lawsuit in Atlanta federal court last Thursday contesting the constitutionality of Georgia Law HB 87, asking the court to block the law before it takes effect on July 1.
Last month, Georgia’s Republican Governor, Nathan Deal, signed HB 87. In an effort to crack down on illegal immigration, the law authorizes police to ask about immigration status when questioning certain suspects and it requires most businesses to use E-Verify to confirm that employees are eligible to legally work in the U.S.  It also supports prison sentences for people who knowingly transport illegal immigrants and prison terms and fines for workers convicted of using fake identification to get jobs.
Immigrant and civil rights groups supporting the lawsuit, including the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Asian Law Caucus, say that the Georgia law is in violation of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution because it:

  • pre-empts the federal government’s authority over immigration matters
  • violates protections against unreasonable search and seizure arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment
  • leads to racial profiling

Spokesman for Gov. Deal, Brian Robinson, pointed out that it is already illegal for immigrants to enter the U.S.without proper documentation but that the federal government has failed to enforce existing laws.
The Georgia lawsuit is the latest conflict in what has become a national debate between state and federal officials over who controls immigration enforcement. Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, was the first of such laws that proposed cracking down on illegal immigration.  It launched the issue onto the national stage last year when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutional.
A federal judge froze key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law in a decision that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in April. Last month, a federal judge in Utah blocked a strict immigration enforcement law that went into effect just 24 hours earlier. Then last week the Supreme Court upheld an aspect of theArizona law that punishes businesses that hire illegal workers.
According to the National Immigration Forum, lawmakers in at least 20 states have considered similar proposals over the past year.  Many, however, have postponed efforts after seeing the costs and problems faced by states like Arizona and Utah as they attempt to implement immigration laws.
Authors of HB 87, including Georgia Rep. Matt Ramsey, have known since the beginning that groups were going to file lawsuits against the bill.  With this in mind, verbiage was used to ensure that it would not be vulnerable in the courts and that it would withstand legal challenges.
While opponents of the Georgia law say the state should expect the same challenges as Arizona and Utah, Gov. Deal expects that judges considering the case will uphold the law.