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Judge’s ruling on Ga. immigration law earns praise

Attorney: Enforcement is largely up to local agencies

POSTED: March 23, 2013 12:30 a.m.

People in the immigration community reacted positively to a federal judge’s ruling on Wednesday permanently blocking Georgia from enforcing the statewide criminalization of harboring and transporting of illegal immigrants.

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.

But it remains unclear how local agencies will enforce the areas upheld from the 2011 immigration bill, which includes a section known as “papers, please.”

“That section says police can stop you walking down the street and prove you’re a citizen,” Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso said.

Other local residents who declined to be quoted by name supported the ruling.

Corso noted the rights of any person questioned by law enforcement.

“The law says the police can ask to see your papers, but the law doesn’t say that people have to answer,” Corso said. “What I tell everybody — white, black, brown, whatever — is that if a police officer asks you for your papers, you can politely decline and just walk away.”

That’s a right, Corso said, direct from the U.S. Constitution.

“The Fourth Amendment says we’re free from unreasonable searches and seizures,” he said.

When driving is involved, for example, he noted the standard is different.

“Showing your license is a specific statute in Georgia traffic code. Driving a car is not a right, but walking down the sidewalk is a right,” he said.

What happens next depends on the officer.

“The officer could theoretically detain you, and call immigration to grab you and detain you where 287(g) still exists,” Corso said.

Both the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police have said in the past that their priority is oriented to protect and serve the community, not check the immigration status of law-abiding residents.

Corso said he’s never heard of a pedestrian being asked for papers.

“A lot of law enforcement agencies across the state have said ‘We don’t want to do this, we don’t have time resources inclination to be immigration agents,’” he said.

The original lawsuit was brought by several groups including the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, against the governor, attorney general and others involved with the law’s creation.

Now anyone cited under the harboring and transportation section can no longer face a legal challenge.

“It’s game over for them on that section of the law,” Corso said. “The only possibility is if the legislature passed another law, then we would start all over again.”

The “papers, please” section, however, remains open for future litigation.

“The judge said there is no evidence it is leading to racial profiling,” the basis of the lawsuit for that portion, he said.

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.

Omar Jadwat, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union involved in the Georgia law’s challenge, applauded Thrash’s ruling.

“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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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