Georgia’s Immigration Law Highlights Reality Vs. Politics

By Christopher Rangel

Georgia’s Latino population growth ranked the state tenth nationwide for the 2000-2010 decade, with a Latino population of about 854,000. The state also ranked sixth in the number of unauthorized immigrants in a state, with an estimate of around 425,000. These numbers, combined with the state’s anti-immigrant law, illustrates the range of complexity that surrounds our current immigration debate.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act on May 13 of last year. Known as HB 87, this law puts Georgia into the states that have followed Arizona’s tough immigration legislation. Following the enactment of the bill, ACLU and a group of civil rights groups filed a complaint challenging the law citing various sections of the bill as unconstitutional; the lawsuit claims violation of federal authority over immigration and 14th Amendment rights.

On June 27, of last year, a few days before the law was to take effect, Federal District Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. issued an injunction against two of the most controversial sections of the law. Among the sections blocked included the ability for an officer to further investigate a person’s legal status with “probable cause” and the criminal offense for anyone transporting, harboring or concealing an unauthorized immigrant.

The judge cited a previous court decision, saying that when “the public interest weighs in favor of issuing a preliminary injunction.” When civil rights are at stake, an injunction “protects those rights to which it too is entitled.” Georgia’s law, being just one of series of anti-immigrant laws enacted, sharply illustrates the conflict of the immigration debate between the federal government and states. As Governor Deal of Georgia clearly put it, “Illegal immigration is a complex and troublesome issue, and no state alone can fix it. We will continue to have a broken system until we have a federal solution. In the meantime states must act.”

Politicians in Georgia acknowledge the fact immigration falls to the responsibility of the federal government. Nevertheless the state’s legislature has created a law that not only acts in areas to which the federal government has sole authority, but also creates unanticipated consequences as a result of the complexity of immigration.

As with other states’ immigration laws, Georgia’s controversial sections will not see a solution until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona’s immigration case in March of this year. Most of the other 21 sections of Georgia’s immigration law still went into effect July 21, 2011.

Christopher Rangel is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

[Image By hhs.gov]

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