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Judge strikes down portion of state immigration law

POSTED: March 21, 2013 12:32 a.m.

ATLANTA — A federal judge struck down a section of a Georgia law on Wednesday that would have made it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant while committing another crime, from speeding to more serious violations.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash issued an order to scrap that section of the law, saying that a federal appeals court has already found it to be pre-empted by federal law. He also ordered the state to inform several state agencies that would have been involved in enforcing that provision of his decision.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that a preliminary injunction on that part of the 2011 law could remain in place, and the state decided not to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Georgia is one of several states that followed Arizona’s lead in passing a tough crackdown on illegal immigration in 2010. Several of the laws include similar harboring and transporting provisions.

Thrash’s order was expected, but Omar Jadwat, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union involved in the Georgia law’s challenge, said the order still marks a victory because Thrash is the first federal judge to permanently strike down the harboring and transporting provision of a state law targeting illegal immigration.

“We’re very happy about it,” Jadwat said. “It’s not just us who should be happy, though. It’s everyone in the state of Georgia because this makes it clear people aren’t going to be prosecuted by the state for innocently helping their friends.”

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said Wednesday’s order merely implements the 11th Circuit’s ruling.

Thrash in December lifted his preliminary injunction on another section of the law that authorizes law enforcement to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects who fail to produce proper identification after the 11th Circuit ruled that it should be allowed to go into effect. The full legal challenge to the law, which alleges it is unconstitutional and is pre-empted by federal law, could drag on for years.


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