Judge blocks parts of Ga. immigration law

Associated Press Modified: June 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm •  Published: June 27, 2011
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ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked parts of Georgia's strict new law targeting illegal immigration from taking effect, including a provision that authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects without proper identification and to detain illegal immigrants.

Georgia's became the latest in a string of state laws that have been at least temporarily stopped by legal challenges. All or parts of similar laws in Arizona, Utah and Indiana also have been blocked by federal judges.

Judge Thomas Thrash also granted a request from civil liberties groups to block a part of Georgia's law that penalizes people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.

"The defendants wildly exaggerate the scope of the federal crime of harboring under (the law) when they claim that the Plaintiffs are violating federal immigration law by giving rides to their friends and neighbors who are illegal aliens," he said.

The judge was especially critical of that provision, blasting the state's assertion that federal immigration enforcement is "passive." Thrash noted that federal immigration officers remove more than 900 foreign citizens from the country on an average day.

He also wrote that the state measure would overstep the enforcement boundaries established by federal law. Thrash noted that there are thousands of illegal immigrants in Georgia because of the "insatiable demand in decades gone by for cheap labor" in the agriculture and construction industries. But he said the federal government gives priority to prosecuting and removing illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

The civil liberties groups had sued to have those and other provisions blocked before they took effect Friday, though Thrash did toss parts of that lawsuit. The groups had argued that the law allows unreasonable seizures; blocks a constitutional right to travel; and restricts access to government services on the basis of national origin. The judge dismissed those claims, along with allegations the measure violates property rights and the state constitution.

Nonetheless, the groups hailed the ruling.

"This is a victory that matches the trend nationally. It should send a really strong signal to other states considering such laws," said Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a statement his office plans to appeal the court's ruling. He said he was pleased that parts of the lawsuit were dismissed.

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