Georgia’s gubernatorial candidates stood by their intentions to institute an Arizona-style immigration law, even after a federal judge blocked the law’s most controversial aspects Wednesday.
The overall law still took effect today, but without some of the provisions that angered opponents most.
The judge put on hold parts of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all time and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places. The judge also blocked the portion that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.
Former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who is in a heated runoff with former Secretary of State Karen Handel for the Republican nomination, said the ruling has not deterred his desire to enact a tough immigration law in Georgia.
“President Obama’s answer is not to solve the problem, it is to sue states that are trying to solve problems,” Deal said. “President Obama, you can sue Georgia too because when I am governor I am going to enforce the law.”
Deal, who has made immigration the cornerstone of his campaign, said it is an important economic issue to the future of the state.
“Georgia is even more greatly impacted by illegal immigration than is Arizona. We have more illegal immigrants in this state than Arizona does and it imposes a severe burden on Georgia’s taxpayers,” Deal said. “I have been very clear on my immigration plan. I was the first candidate in this race to say I will work to pass an Arizona-type law in Georgia.”
Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Handel, said Handel was disappointed that parts of the law had been blocked.
“Karen thinks the Obama administration shouldn’t be able to have it both ways — refusing to address illegal immigration themselves and then blocking the states from fixing the problem like Karen’s good friend (Gov.) Jan Brewer is doing in Arizona,” McLagan said.
“Gov. Brewer has endorsed Karen in this race because she knows Karen will join her in fighting the administration on this.”
McLagan said the only thing that has changed since Wednesday’s ruling is that Handel will be prepared to go to court if elected.
“I think that means there will probably be a legal fight over (an Arizona-type law) and it’s a legal fight Karen will gladly join,” McLagan said. “The more people realize how urgent it is that we have real leadership fighting the Obama administration on this, probably the more supportive they’ll be of Karen.”
Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democratic nominee for governor, has expressed his support for a law similar to Arizona’s in the past. In a statement Wednesday, he said he will still consider it, albeit more cautiously.
“I understand Georgian’s frustration with the federal government not living up to its obligations when it comes to controlling our borders; and I have no objection to state officials enforcing federal laws, providing it is not racial profiling. We will have to see what happens as this plays out in the courts,” Barnes said.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the controversial sections should be put on hold until the courts resolve the issues. Other provisions of the law, many of them procedural and slight revisions to existing Arizona immigration statute, went into effect at 12:01 a.m
“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,” Bolton said.
The ruling came just as police were making last-minute preparations to begin enforcement of the law and protesters were planning large demonstrations to speak out against the measure. At least one group planned to block access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them about their immigration status.
The volume of the protests will likely be turned down a few notches because of the ruling by Bolton, a Clinton appointee who suddenly became a crucial figure in the immigration debate when she was assigned the seven lawsuits filed against the Arizona law.
Lawyers for the state contend the law was a constitutionally sound attempt by Arizona — the busiest illegal gateway into the country — to assist federal immigration agents and lessen border woes such as the heavy costs for educating, jailing and providing health care for illegal immigrants.
Opponents argued the law will lead to racial profiling, conflict with federal immigration law and distract local police from fighting more serious crimes. The U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups and a Phoenix police officer had asked the judge for an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced.
“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new (law),” Bolton ruled. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”
The law was signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in April and immediately revived the national debate on immigration, making it a hot-button issue in the midterm elections.
The law has inspired rallies in Arizona and elsewhere by advocates on both sides of the immigration debate. Some opponents have advocated a tourism boycott of Arizona.
It also led an unknown number of illegal immigrants to leave Arizona for other American states or their home countries.
Federal authorities who are trying to overturn the law have argued that letting the Arizona law stand would create a patchwork of immigration laws nationwide that would needlessly complicate the foreign relations of the United States. Federal lawyers said the law is disrupting U.S. relations with Mexico and other countries and would burden the agency that responds to immigration-status inquiries.
Brewer’s lawyers said Arizona shouldn’t have to suffer from America’s broken immigration system when it has 15,000 police officers who can arrest illegal immigrants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report