ATLANTA — A federal judge has granted a request to block parts of Georgia’s law cracking down on illegal immigration from taking effect until a legal challenge is resolved.
Judge Thomas Thrash on Monday blocked parts of the law that penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants. He also blocked provisions that authorize officers to verify the immigration status of someone who can’t provide proper identification.
Thrash also dismissed parts of the lawsuit at the state’s request.
I’ll be interested to read the whole ruling (PDF available here), but in the short term I don’t think this changes much. While Thrash has blocked implementation of the most legally aggressive sections of the bill, most of its structure remains intact, including E-verify requirements on employers.
UPDATE: Here’s a crucial section of the ruling, dealing with the question of whether the federal government has in effect ceded law enforcement authority to Georgia and other states by not actively enforcing immigration law:
“The widespread belief that the federal government is doing nothing about illegal immigration is the belief in a myth. Although the Defendants [state of Georgia] characterize federal enforcement as “passive,” that assertion has no basis in fact. On an average day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrest approximately 816 aliens for administrative immigration violations and remove approximately 912 aliens, including 456 criminal aliens, from the United States.
In 2010, immigration offenses were prosecuted in federal court more than any other offense. Of the 83,946 cases prosecuted under the federal sentencing guidelines, 28,504, or 34% involved immigration offenses. In 2010, of 81,304 criminal cases prosecuted in federal court, 38,619 (47.5%) were non-United States citizens.
It is true that there are thousands of illegal immigrants in Georgia that are here because of the insatiable demand in decades gone by for cheap labor in agriculture and certain industries such as construction and poultry processing. The federal government gives priority to prosecuting and removing illegal immigrants that are committing crimes in this country and to those who have previously been deported for serious criminal offenses such as drug trafficking and crimes of violence. To the extent that federal officers and prosecutors have priorities that differ from those of local prosecutors, those priorities are part of the flexibility that “is a critical component of the statutory and regulatory framework” under which the federal government pursues the difficult (and often competing) objectives, of “protecting national security, protecting public safety, and securing the border.”
Thrash also cites the sworn affidavit of Lewis Smith, police chief of Uvalda, a small farming town of 600 in southeast Georgia.
“This is going to be devastating to my community and to many other areas of rural Georgia,” Smith wrote. “I believe this law will open the door to racial profiling if it is implemented. There are a lot of good police officers, but there are some bad ones out there too, and if the bad ones don’t like Hispanics, for whatever reason, they will have the ability to try to verify that person’s immigration status. I believe that officers in many small towns will rely on physical appearance or way of talking (accent) to determine whether to stop someone and attempt to verify the person’s immigration status.”
Smith also explained the burden that HB 87 would place on him and other law enforcement officers. He is the lone officer in Uvalda, and transporting a suspected illegal immigrant to the closest jail 40 miles away, booking the person and returning home would pull him off patrol for two hours and 15 minutes.
“Because Uvalda is such a small town, everyone in town knows when I’ve left town and the criminal element often takes advantage of this time to commit crimes,” he writes.
And about that criminal element?
“The criminal element in Uvalda does not include the population HB 87 targets. In Uvalda, even though we are a small town, we have a big prescription drug problem resulting in break-ins, burglaries and even suicides. Hispanics, and particularly Hispanic immigrants, are law-abiding people.”
“I currently have a good relationship with the Hispanic community, but HB 87 is going to erode the communities’ trust in me.”
“I think this law unfairly targets Hispanic people. The Hispanic people living in my community are law abiding people. They have family and kids.”
– Jay Bookman