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US judge will rule soon on Ga.s new immigration law
Human rights groups argued the new state law is unconstitutional
Omar Jadwat, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, gives a statement Monday during a press conference at the federal courthouse in Atlanta following a hearing to decide whether an injunction should be filed on the state’s new immigration law. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Read House Bill 87, Georgia's new immigration law, set to take effect on July 1.

A federal judge has promised he will decide in the next 10 days whether to temporarily block enforcement of Georgia’s new immigration law.

Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed suit against the law, claiming it is unconstitutional, and have asked that it not be enforced until the court has a chance to decide the matter.

The state’s attorney general’s office has asked that the suit be dismissed.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash heard arguments for both Monday but did not make a decision. He said he would rule before the law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

While some 250 people were inside watching Monday’s proceedings, a group of young Latinos protested in front of the Richard B. Russell federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta, wearing stickers that read “What happens in Arizona stops in Arizona” and carrying signs such as one that read “Dear Judge, Please Remember Liberty and Justice For All.”

One woman wore a T-shirt depicting an upraised fist beside the words “Brown and Proud.”

Eva Cardenas, a 23-year-old member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights protested with the crowd, saying many in her group had not been able to go inside because they were illegal immigrants.

Cardenas acknowledged the problems of illegal immigration, but said the state needed more comprehensive immigration reform. House Bill 87, she said, only legalized racial profiling.

“It stigmatizes the Latino community, or anyone who is not white or blue-eyed,” she said.

Inside, the judge also questioned Georgia lawmakers’ intention when they passed House Bill 87 in April.

Among other plaintiffs, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights have claimed the law violates a constitutional protection of illegal search and seizure and invites racial profiling by local law enforcement.

Omar Jadwat, who argued on the behalf of the ACLU Monday, said the new law creates “a state system that allows for detention without probable cause that a crime has been committed.”

Jadwat focused on two sections of the bill: one that gives law enforcement the ability to check whether a person is in the country legally if he or she cannot provide sufficient documentation and another that makes it a crime in Georgia, for the most part, to give an illegal immigrant a ride or help an illegal immigrant remain in the United States.

Jadwat said the law allows for warrantless arrests by local law enforcement and preempts federal laws. He said it was not for Georgia lawmakers to decide if federal immigration statutes were “insufficiently harsh.”

“The states can’t directly regulate immigration,” Jadwat told the judge. “... Immigration law is supposed to be uniform across the states.”

The judge asked few questions of Jadwat during the plaintiff’s argument. His interaction with the state’s attorneys was the opposite.

Devon Orland, the senior assistant attorney for the attorney general’s office, argued the law was meant to protect taxpayers’ dollars and did not allow for warrantless arrests.

Orland said the law mirrored federal immigration law and was the state’s effort at helping to enforce the federal law. She likened the law to the state’s enforcement of federal gun and drug laws, and said it sent a cooperative message to the federal government of “we’ll take the little guys; you take the big guys.”

In a rebuttal later, Jadwat said there is a system in place that allows local governments to participate with the federal government in immigration enforcement. A few counties, including Hall, participate in the 287(g) program, he said, following specific protocol outlined by the federal government.

The state’s passage of House Bill 87, Jadwat said, showed an “assumption of dual sovereignty that’s just not the case.”

Orland said the bill would help save public funds that are spent providing health care to illegal immigrants or processing them in the judicial system. More than once, she mentioned the state’s unemployment rate.

“The fiscal resources of this state are at great jeopardy,” Orland told the judge. “...The point is to save the fiscal resources of this state.”

But Thrash questioned whether the law would place a financial burden on local governments and others charged with enforcing the law “by putting even more illegal immigrants in jail than are already there.”

The judge questioned many of Orland’s statements. More than once during her argument, the judge admonished Orland for interrupting him.

At one point, Thrash asked Orland to move on in her argument, saying the attorney was not answering his repeated question as to whether the bill allows local law enforcement to detain someone until his or her immigration status is verified.

Thrash also asked whether the state’s new law was unnecessary if it mirrored federal law as Orland had argued. He repeatedly questioned the intention of the law, and asked how an 18-year-old citizen who was a child of an illegal immigrant would be treated if he was pulled over for speeding while driving his illegal mother to the grocery store. Thrash also pointed out that the illegal immigrant mother would be paying local sales tax at the store.

Orland began to answer: “If he is knowingly —”

Thrash cut her off: “Of course he knows his mother is illegal.”

Orland answered that yes, the child could be penalized under the new law.

“It may be unfair. It may be unkind. But that doesn’t make it unconstitutional,” Orland said.

Orland also argued that the law did not violate the Fourth Amendment, because it was written with the expectation that local law enforcement would not discriminate based on race.

For someone’s legal status to become a question, Orland said, that person would have to commit a crime.

The state’s attorney did not, however, deny that there could be situations of racial profiling associated with the law, but she said racial profiling occurs regardless of an immigration statute.

“It might be inappropriately enforced ... but the law presumes, as we all should, that local law enforcement are going to do the right thing,” Orland said, adding that there was no guarantee they would.

She said the law would protect immigrants from exploitation and being used as “slave labor.”

Thrash was incredulous of the notion.

“Are you seriously telling me the purpose of this statute is to protect illegal aliens?” he asked.

Orland answered that protection of immigrants was “definitely” part of the purpose of the statute. Again, Thrash questioned whether the federal government was not already protecting illegal immigrants from exploitation. He said judges in the federal courthouse in Atlanta punish people on a monthly basis for such crimes.

After the hearing, Orland declined comment. The plaintiffs in the suit, however, held a press conference on the courthouse steps, one by one, denouncing the law.

The events in the courtroom Monday, Jadwat said, made the plaintiffs hopeful.

“(The judge) made clear the practical problems of the new law and its broad applications, so we’re very happy,” he said.

Georgia’s law has provisions similar to those in laws enacted in Arizona, Utah and Indiana.

The measure authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot provide identification and to detain and hand over to federal authorities anyone found to be in the country illegally. It also penalizes people who, while committing another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.

A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s law last year after the U.S. Department of Justice sued, arguing that only the federal government can regulate immigration. A federal appeals court judge upheld the decision, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal judge also has temporarily blocked Utah’s law, citing similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona’s law.

A hearing is set for mid-July to determine if that law can take effect. And in Indiana, a federal judge is set to hear arguments Monday over whether that state’s law can take effect next month.

Another section of the Georgia law set to be phased in starting in January will require many businesses to check the immigration status of new hires. A separate Arizona law with the same requirement was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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