ATLANTA — A federal judge has dismissed a constitutional challenge to Georgia’s 2011 immigration law.
The order from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash means Georgia law enforcement agencies can ask people to prove their legal status if they are detained for suspicion of an unrelated crime.
In December, the judge lifted a preliminary block and allowed authorities to start enforcing the so-called “show me your papers” provision.
His Friday order dispenses with the case altogether, though the action doesn’t prevent future lawsuits by a person who might claim an unconstitutional search-and-seizure.
Thrash cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar Arizona law that justices said was not on its face unconstitutional and a subsequent 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the provision at issue would “be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law.”
Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for one of the immigrant advocacy groups that filed the suit, said the coalition will continue to monitor how Georgia carries out the law. Multiple courts have noted that the laws could present new legal questions depending on how authorities enforce them.
Aides for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal, who signed the law, declined to comment.
Tumlin, the managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said the plaintiffs have filed public records requests for documents detailing how 28 agencies plan to implement the law and train officers. She said they have received several documents back, but declined to give details.
Using the Supreme Court’s Arizona ruling as a guideline, Tumlin said individuals are still constitutionally protected from being detained only because authorities are trying to verify citizenship or legal status. The court, she said, has merely allowed officers to request papers and to detain people they determine are violating the law.
Tumlin said she would not rule out a new pre-emptive lawsuit against a local jurisdiction based on their policies, even if there is no plaintiff claiming an actual violation.
Though the state has declared victory on the legal-papers provision, the plaintiffs succeeded earlier in the case in blocking provisions that would have made it a crime to harbor or transport a person who is in the country illegally and is in the process of committing a crime.