A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday overturning portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law is sure to have ramifications for a similar law passed in Georgia last year.
But just what those effects will be are still unclear.
Opponents of Georgia’s immigration law are hopeful the court’s decision to toss out key provisions of Arizona’s law means they can eventually win their legal challenge.
But supporters and Gov. Nathan Deal are also claiming victory, saying the justices affirmed states’ rights to assist in enforcing federal immigration law.
On the local level, law enforcement officials said they’ll have to wait to see how Monday’s ruling will alter protocol.
“We do not know at this time if it will have a significant impact on our agency,” said Col. Tony Carter, chief deputy for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. “We will also be looking for legal guidance from the Georgia attorney general’s office and the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.”
The Supreme Court upheld a provision that requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is not in the country legally. Those pushing for tougher immigration laws hope the high court’s support for that measure will free up a similar statute in Georgia’s law that was put on hold by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta.
The case was in limbo until the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona. Georgia’s law makes such immigration status checks legal but does not require them as Arizona does.
“The only part of the Georgia law remotely associated with the Supreme Court decision today was upheld, and that should be viewed as a victory,” said D.A. King, founder of the Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and helped craft the state’s law.
Deal, who was not available for an interview, released a statement praising the ruling.
“It appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state’s statute: That states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law,” he said.
But immigration advocates say the other side is misreading the ruling. In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that while they were upholding the “show me your papers” requirement, they also left the policy open to further legal challenge under racial profiling and civil rights statutes.
Arturo Corso, a Gainesville attorney who has been critical of Georgia’s immigration law, explained that the justices appeared to say, “We’re going to refuse to strike down the ‘show me your papers’ provision until you can show us that states are using that provision in a racially unjust way.”
Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said “if Georgia wants to enforce it, they will have to check the immigration status of every single person they stop and detain. It can’t be optional.”
Corso called the Supreme Court ruling “a win” for those who thought states like Arizona and Georgia were overreaching into federal immigration issues.
However, Corso said, he wasn’t sure what specifically would change in Georgia’s law because of the ruling.
“I think it’s too soon to tell,” he said.
The Supreme Court also threw out several provisions of Arizona’s law, including one requiring all immigrants to carry registration papers and another that allows police officers to arrest people on immigration charges.
The court left untouched one complaint raised in numerous lawsuits in states with similar immigration laws — that immigration crackdown laws encourage police to engage in racial profiling. That leaves open the possibility that lower courts, like the 11th Circuit, could still overturn parts of various laws based on those arguments.
And not all immigration reform advocates saw Monday’s ruling as good news.
For Gainesville’s state Rep. Carl Rogers, a supporter of Georgia immigration reform, his first reaction was disappointment over the ruling to overturn certain aspects of Arizona’s law.
Meanwhile, Rogers said President Barrack Obama and Congress continue to ignore their responsibilities to enact immigration reform.
That, he said, is why Georgia lawmakers took on the issue.
“It was obvious the federal government wasn’t going to do anything. We had to take the lead like Arizona and Alabama,” he said. “We were sending a message.”
During the process, Rogers admitted he did wonder if the state immigration law would hold up in the Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.