Jun 9, 2011 9:41 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
ATLANTA (AP) - Civil liberties groups urged a federal judge Wednesday to immediately block Georgia's crackdown on illegal immigration from taking effect until a legal challenge is resolved.
A class-action lawsuit they filed last week claims the crackdown violates state and federal law and asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and to keep authorities from enforcing it. It did not include a request for an injunction, which the groups filed separately Wednesday.
"Unless this law is blocked, countless Georgians - native born and immigrant alike - will suffer grave constitutional rights violations, be subject to racial profiling or criminalized because of their interactions with their neighbors and family," said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center. "These people should not be subject to these irreparable harms simply because an unconstitutional law is on the books."
Because most parts of the law are set to take effect July 1, the groups also asked for an expedited hearing on the motion for an injunction. Judge Thomas Thrash, who is set to hear the case, has scheduled a status conference hearing for 10 a.m. Friday.
The lawsuit names Gov. Nathan Deal and several other state officials. Deal's office referred requests for comment to the attorney general's office. Attorney General Sam Olens, who is also named as a defendant, last week called the lawsuit's claims meritless.
A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with the law's author, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City. He said last week he wouldn't be surprised if the law was temporarily blocked but said he believes the state will ultimately prevail. He has said the measure is necessary because illegal immigrants are a drain on the state's resources.
The measure authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of a suspect who cannot provide identification and to detain and hand over to federal authorities anyone found to be in the country illegally. It also penalizes people who, during the commission of another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
Georgia's law has some provisions that echo those in a law enacted last year in Arizona and is also similar to another enacted this year in Utah.
A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona's law last year after the U.S. Department of Justice sued, arguing the law intrudes on the federal government's exclusive powers to regulate immigration. A federal appeals court judge upheld the decision and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ACLU and other civil liberties groups filed a complaint claiming that the Utah law was an unconstitutional burden to legal immigrants and too much like portions of Arizona's immigration law. A federal judge last month temporarily blocked that law, citing similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona's law. A hearing is set for mid-July to determine if the law can go into effect.
Another section of the Georgia law set to be phased in starting in January will require many businesses to check the immigration status of new hires. An Arizona law with the same requirement was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit filed last week does not take issue with that part of the Georgia law.