On Thursday, state legislators in Atlanta passed a statute modeled on Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law, setting up yet more questions for the courts about how far states and municipalities can go in cracking down on illegal immigration. Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the measure.
Thus far, courts seem to see the states’ role as minimal, despite protests from conservative policymakers that the absence of federal enforcement has compelled them to step into the breach.
Both Arizona's and Georgia’s laws authorize police officers to ask for papers when making routine traffic stops or minor arrests to check whether their subjects are in the country legally. Earlier this week, a federal Appeals Court upheld an injunction against the parts of the Arizona law that require police officers to check immigration status, saying that immigration enforcement falls squarely within the purview of the federal government.
The Georgia law requires private employers to use the Homeland Security Department’s voluntary electronic employment-verification system. Arizona passed a separate law with that same requirement before it passed its controversial enforcement proposal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sued Arizona over the employment-verification law, arguing that states do not have the authority to require participation in the federal program. That challenge is awaiting a Supreme Court decision this year, and it could inform the larger debate about how states can enforce immigration. Congress is also considering a mandatory electronic-verification law that would likely preempt both the Arizona and Georgia statutes.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union called Georgia’s new immigration law “ill-conceived,” arguing, “It sends a clear message to communities that the authorities are not to be trusted.” ACLU was among several civil-rights groups that filed a lawsuit challenging the Arizona bill. The Justice Department has also sued Arizona over its law.
However the Supreme Court rules on Arizona’s laws, civil-rights groups are poised to make sure that any similar provisions in other state laws, such as Georgia's, are scrutinized in court. “The ACLU will continue to be on the front lines fighting discriminatory laws like these across the country,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
This article appears in the April 15, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.