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June 28th, 2011
John Fredericks / Staff

Georgia's Immigration Law "Thrashed" (06.28.11)

A Federal Judge Puts Georgia's New immigration Law On I.C.E. 

Special U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash [pictured left] neutered key elements of Georgia's new immigration law, SB 87, that render it impotent. Cops can't arrest illegal immigrants and those that transport or harbor them are off the police hook.

Thrash's ruling is a blow to Georgia conservatives, and Republican governor Nathan Deal, who pushed hard for the legislation last session. Thrash wrote that one provision of the law will "convert many routine encounters with law enforcement into lengthy and intrusive immigration status investigations" and burden federal authorities who are ultimately responsible for doing the immigration status checks.

Oddly, Thrash made one sweeping political judgment that had nothing to do with the constitutionality of the law. He said the idea that the federal government is doing nothing about illegal immigration a "belief in a myth." He cited statistics showing the federal government deports hundreds of illegal immigrants daily. And he scoffed at a claim from state officials that Georgia’s law would help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation, calling their claim "gross hypocrisy."

"The apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust and insecurity that all illegal aliens will leave Georgia," Thrash said.

But it came as no surprise. This is the fourth state sponsored anti-immigration law to be shot down by a Federal Judge. Similar rulings have dismantled bills in Arizona, Utah, and Indiana. In each case, state immigration laws -- enacted in part due to local vexation over the federal government's inability to solve the crisis -- have not been able to hold together in the face of constitutional challenges. In a mammoth 45 page rendering, Thrash lambasted Peach State politicians for what he interpreted as their attempt to circumvent the federal law. Thrash essentially iced two key sections of the law that was supposed to go into effect on Friday, July 1. 


Georgia Governor Nathan Deal [pictured right] in no apparent mood for legal shenanigans, fired back a scathing rebuke to Thrash's ruling, and said the state would appeal the District Court Judge's decision on lynchpins of the Georgia law.

The first centers on the ability of cops to flush out the immigration legality of any suspect they have arrested for probable cause who cannot readily produce lawful I.D., like a driver's license or green card. The other provision Thrash shredded was the ability for cops to go after anyone -- who may be suspected of committing another crime -- they believe may be harboring or transporting illegals. 

The Judge wrote he based his rulings on the fact he believes ACLU challenges to the law will eventually win out at a higher court. Conversely, he tossed out other provisions of the ACLU lawsuit which centered on constitutionally protected travel rights. The court upheld 21 of the law’s 23 sections.

"Gov.Deal is disappointed that the court enjoined two sections of Georgia's immigration law," said Brian Robinson, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for communications. "Curiously, the court writes 'all illegal aliens will leave Georgia' if the law is enforced, as if it is appalled at the thought of people attaining visas before coming to our nation. The federal court's ruling, however, will crystallize for Georgians and other Americans our underlying problem: Beyond refusing to help with our state’s illegal immigration problem, the federal government is determined to be an obstacle. The state of Georgia narrowly tailored its immigration law to conform to existing federal law and court rulings. Georgians can rest assured that this battle doesn’t end here; we will appeal this decision."


U.S. Rep. John Lewis (Ga-5), who blasted SB 87 the day the governor signed it, expressed his relief that key "pernicious" components of the law were at least delayed. "When this law was passed, I was deeply disappointed in the leadership of this state. It seemed we were willing to turn a blind eye to the worst and most bitter lessons of our discriminatory past to embrace tactics that took us backwards and jeopardized our chances to move forward economically, socially, and politically," the former civil rights leader said.

"As H.R. 87 is written, police have the power to hold people -- immigrants and citizens alike -- to investigate their status. It reminded me of the notorious passbook system of the by-gone days of South African apartheid. It seemed like a license for modern-day racial profiling and an invitation to violate an individual’s civil rights. I am very glad to hear that a federal judge intervened in this matter to block the most heavy-handed measures of this law," Lewis added.

The veteran Congressman [pictured above], who is being challenged for this seat in the 2012 Democrat Primary, says he agrees with the judge's analysis that aspects of H.R. 87 seemed to be an end-run around federal law and an attempt by the state to manage areas of immigration that are actually under federal mandate.


On the flip side, SB 87 backers took solace in the fact that Thrash kept the rest of the teeth in the bill. The most critical being the E-verify system that provides companies with the means by which to determine if their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. legally. "Obviously, I am disappointed that Judge Thrash chose to impose an injunction on parts of HB 87," State Senator Jack Murphy (R-27) said. "Still, I think it is important to point out that we spent a lot of time researching and crafting this law to ensure that it is Constitutional. The plaintiffs in this case made five arguments as to why it should be ruled unconstitutional. The judge threw out four of those arguments. I am certain this law is Constitutional and I am certain an appeals court will reverse the judge’s ruling that federal law possibly preempts HB 87. After all, this law simply follows existing federal law."


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