Civil rights groups challenge Georgia's immigration law

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 02, 2011 1:53 PM
Civil rights groups challenge Georgia's immigration law

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Civil rights groups filed a federal class action lawsuit on Thursday challenging Georgia's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigrants that is similar to one enacted by Arizona last year.

The measure, signed into law by Republican Governor Nathan Deal last month, is set to take effect July 1.

"The lawsuit charges the extreme law endangers public safety, invites the racial profiling of Latinos, Asians and others who appear foreign to an officer, and interferes with federal law," said a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations.

The governor's office said Deal expects the state to prevail in a legal challenge.

"These organizations falsely claim (the new law) is a copycat of Arizona's legislation. It is not," said Deal's press secretary, Stephanie Mayfield.

"The Georgia General Assembly carefully vetted a piece of legislation that ensured a constitutional final product."

The Georgia law authorizes police to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects they think may be in the country illegally.

It also requires many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.

Some farmers are complaining that the legislation is creating a shortage of seasonal workers before it even goes into effect, and Deal has asked the state's agriculture commissioner to assess those concerns.

Enforcement of U.S. immigration laws traditionally is handled by federal, not state, authorities. The Georgia measure is the latest to gain favor among Republicans at the state level who accuse President Barack Obama and the federal government of failing to stem illegal immigration.

Georgia now joins Arizona and Utah in defending its new law in federal court.

Key parts of the Arizona law were blocked by the federal courts after the Obama administration challenged it on the grounds that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration matters.

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 26 upheld Arizona's right to require employers to use E-Verify. The court also held that Arizona could suspend or revoke business licenses of those companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

The 2007 law upheld by the court is separate from one Arizona adopted last year requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked a milder immigration law in Utah. The ruling came on the same day the Utah law, passed earlier this year, went into effect.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)