ATLANTA — Opponents of Georgia’s immigration law are hopeful Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that tossed out key provisions of Arizona’s law means they can eventually win their legal challenge.
But supporters and Gov. Nathan Deal are also claiming victory, saying the justices affirmed states’ rights to assist in enforcing federal immigration law.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a provision Monday that requires police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is not in the country legally. Those pushing for tougher immigration laws in Georgia hope the high court’s support for that measure will free up a similar statute in Georgia’s law that was put on hold by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta.
The case was in limbo until the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona. Georgia’s law makes immigration status checks legal but does not require them as in Arizona.
“The only part of the Georgia law remotely associated with the Supreme Court decision today was upheld, and that should be viewed as a victory,” said D.A. King, founder of the Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and helped craft the state’s law.
Deal, who was not available for an interview, released a statement praising the ruling.
“It appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state’s statute: That states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law,” he said.
But immigration advocates say the other side is misreading the court’s ruling. In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that while they upheld the “show me your papers” requirement, they also left the policy open to further challenge under racial profiling and civil rights statutes.
Laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah were modeled at least in part upon the one passed by Arizona in 2010. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue, challenges to the laws in those states can now likely move forward.
Supporters of immigration crackdowns, however, say the ruling also gives states a critical role in enforcing federal law by allowing local authorities to check the status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
“I’m encouraged at least by that glimmer of hope in the decision that we’ll have the opportunity to interact more closely with the federal government on undocumented residents when we encounter them,” said South Carolina state Sen. Larry Martin, a Republican who sponsored his state’s legislation. “Beyond that, I think our hands are tied by the federal law.”
The court left untouched one complaint raised in numerous lawsuits in states with similar immigration laws – that immigration crackdown laws encourage police to engage in racial profiling. That leaves open the possibility that lower courts, like the 11th Circuit, could still overturn parts of various laws based on those arguments.
Other states including Mississippi, Nebraska and Oklahoma had previously considered immigration crackdowns that ultimately failed.