Local News

July 1, 2012

Supreme Court immigration ruling unlikely to affect Georgia law

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law appears to have no direct impact on the immigration law passed by Georgia legislators last year that went into effect one year ago today, local observers say.

The Georgia law has been challenged as unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups, but the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had put the lawsuit on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona law. The appellate court last week asked lawyers on both sides to submit briefs by Friday, July 6, stating how they believe the Supreme Court decision affects Georgia law.

“It seems to be the general consensus so far that the (Supreme Court) decision won’t have much impact (on Georgia) in that the provisions that were declared to be unconstitutional or in conflict with federal law are not part of what Georgia passed,” said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton.

The Supreme Court stuck down a provision of the Arizona law that made it a misdemeanor for an illegal alien to seek employment, another provision that allowed police to arrest without a warrant those they suspected of being illegal aliens and a third provision requiring aliens to carry registration papers. That final provision is part of federal law.

None of those provisions are in the Georgia law.

But the court in an 8-0 ruling said it would not strike down a provision of the Arizona law requiring police to try to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest if they reasonably suspect they are illegal aliens. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the case. Before joining the court, Kagan served as solicitor general in the Obama administration and took part in its initial challenge to the Arizona law.

Georgia’s law does have a similar requirement to that provision. It gives police the authority to check the immigration status of someone they detain or arrest if they reasonably suspect that person is an illegal alien. The 11th Circuit court put that provision on hold until the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona’s law. But the Supreme Court indicated it might entertain another challenge to that provision of the Arizona law.

“It’s not that they said ‘You have 100 percent backing to go ahead and check people to make sure they are in the country legally.’ What they said was ‘We don’t have an actual case where somebody claims they have been racially profiled,’” said Matthew Hipps, assistant professor of political science at Dalton State College.

Several observers said they don’t believe it will be long before the court has such a challenge.

“It’s almost like they said they anticipate there will be problems with that provision,” said Ken Ellinger, associate professor of political science at Dalton State College. “It seems like an invitation to racial profiling, but they aren’t willing to strike it down before it takes effect. Somebody’s certainly going to sue, probably sooner rather than later.”

But Hipps said unless the Supreme Court does make a definitive ruling on the issue the 11th Circuit is unlikely to strike down the provision of Georgia’s law allowing police to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest.

Georgia’s law also contains a provision forcing employers to use the federal E-Verify program to determine whether new hires have the government’s permission to work in the United States. The Supreme Court upheld a separate Arizona law last year that forced employers to use the E-Verify program.

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