By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 30, 2012
A federal court blocked a provision of Georgia’s immigration law, lifting the fear of advocates for immigrants that the law could interfere with ministering to undocumented immigrants.
“That’s a definite plus,” said Frank Mulcahy, the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference. “We’re pleased the court of appeal saw the unconstitutional aspects,” he said.
Meanwhile, the same three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found another section constitutional, one that some have nicknamed the “show me your papers” provision. Authorities can begin enforcing this provision within weeks.
The court ruled both on Georgia and Alabama immigration-related laws.
Both states’ requirements for law enforcement officers to ask for immigration documents from anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally were left intact, in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that upheld a similar provision in Arizona law.
The judges ruled against the section in Georgia’s law that prohibits harboring or transporting undocumented individuals. The judge said the law to punish people who transport undocumented immigrants is pre-empted by federal law.
“If found constitutional, these provisions would have impacted our parishes and their ministries, as well as the many other people who work with immigrants,” Mulcahy said in an advisory to parishes.
Ruling on the Alabama law, the same three-judge panel court struck down provisions that mirrored two parts of Arizona’s law that were struck down by the Supreme Court. The sections would have made it illegal for immigrants to fail to carry immigration documents and criminalized the act of seeking work if the individual lacks a work permit.
The court said the contracts provision violated the Constitution because it would prevent undocumented immigrants from entering into contracts that would enable people to live in Alabama, and only the federal government has authority to determine someone’s immigration status. Opponents of the provision argued that it would mean people could not get leases, utility services and other essential elements of normal life.
When the schools provision took effect in 2011, many children around the state stopped going to school—even if they were U.S. citizens—because parents worried about how the state would use immigration data the schools were supposed to collect.
The case was brought to the court by a group of immigration and civil rights activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union. The Archdiocese of Atlanta did not participate in the suit.
Law enforcement officers have the ability to investigate the immigration status of a person when there is probable cause that a person has committed a crime, Mulcahy said.
Courts have ruled that police have the authority to learn the identity of people when they have probable cause a crime was committed, just like they can ask for a license when a person is stopped for a broken taillight.
“Reliance on race, color, or national origin that is constitutionally prohibited, however, is expressly forbidden by the Georgia statute,” the court said. “It is inappropriate for us to assume that the state will disregard its own law, and we therefore reject the argument in this respect, keeping in mind that unconstitutional application of the statute could be challenged in later litigation,” the judges wrote in the ruling.
And the court left open the possibility of further review, if the appropriate restrictions aren’t followed, Mulcahy said.