Federal Courts Block Key Provisions of Restrictive Immigration Laws in Georgia and Indiana

Today, a federal judge in Georgia granted a preliminary injunction against key provisions of the state’s immigration law, HB 87, which was slated to take effect Friday. Today’s decision follows another federal court decision handed down last week in Indiana which also blocked key provisions of the state’s new immigration law, SB 590. And these restrictive immigration laws aren’t the only ones caught up in legal battles. Several restrictive immigration laws are being challenged in court with more likely to follow. This week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested a meeting with Alabama law enforcement officials to determine whether or not to file suit against their immigration law while civil rights groups threatened to sue South Carolina if Gov. Nikki Haley signs their restrictive bill, S 20, into law.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. granted a preliminary injunction today temporarily enjoining two key provisions of the state’s restrictive immigration law, HB 87. In his decision, Judge Thrash argued that Georgia’s law “unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters.”

One provision of Georgia’s law would have made it a crime to “knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.” The other provision would have authorized “Georgia law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects where the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect committed another criminal offense.” The section of Georgia’s law that requires businesses to check the immigration status of new hires, however, remains intact and is expected to be implemented July 1, 2011.

Georgia’s farming industry, meanwhile, is taking a hit as a result of HB 87 with reports of thousands of undocumented farm laborers fleeing the state. One survey estimates that there are already 11,080 vacant farm positions in Georgia that need to be filled. Georgia’s Agribusiness Council said farms have lost $300 million to date and could lose up to $1 billion if they can’t find reliable farm workers.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker blocked two provisions of Indiana’s immigration law, SB 590. Describing the law as “seriously flawed,” Judge Evans found that the law violated the Constitution’s due process, search and seizure provisions and other protections. One provision would have allowed law enforcement to make warrantless arrests of those who have questionable immigration status—including those for whom DHS has issued a detainer or notice of action, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are unlawfully present. The other provision barred the use of consular identification cards as a valid form of ID. The ACLU and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) sued Indiana in May.

In Alabama this week, the DOJ is scheduled to meet with state law enforcement officials to determine whether not Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56, interferes with the feder­al government’s enforcement of immigration law. Alabama’s law requires local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of those stopped for traffic violations, public schools to determine the immigration status of students, employers to use E-Verify and makes it a crime to knowingly rent to, transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.

Despite the large costs and uphill legal battles in nearly every state that has passed Arizona-inspired immigration laws, some states, like South Carolina, continue attempts to put restrictive immigration laws on the books. Just this week, the ACLU and NILC announced plans to sue South Carolina if Governor Nikki Haley signs S 20, an immigration law which passed last week.

Sadly, the costs of these lawsuits is only one aspect of the numerous costs borne by states where SB 1070-style laws have passed.  One can only hope that lawmakers’ appetites for restrictive immigration lawmaking will decrease as fallout continues.

Photo by zimmytws.

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