A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Monday that Georgia could soon start enforcing a key part of its sweeping immigration law, empowering state and local police to investigate the immigration status of suspects and take illegal immigrants to jail.
But the three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said it recognizes arguments from critics that this statute “invites a host of other problems, namely racial profiling,” and that such racial profiling could spur lawsuits.
Federal court rules say Georgia could begin enforcing the measure — nicknamed the “show-me-your-papers law” — within a matter of weeks if neither side in the case asks for a rehearing by the full appeals court.
The court also ruled that another part of Georgia’s law should remain on hold. That provision would punish people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing other crimes.
Both measures terrified illegal immigrants after Gov. Nathan Deal signed them into law last year, prompting some to flee Georgia. But calm prevailed in June of last year when a lower court in Atlanta temporarily put the statutes on hold.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash took action amid a legal challenge brought by a coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those groups argued the statutes are pre-empted by federal law and are therefore unconstitutional. Georgia officials denied those arguments and appealed, saying the state must act to protect its taxpayer-funded resources.
State and ACLU officials said they were still reviewing the court’s ruling Monday and had not yet decided whether they would appeal. A spokesman for the governor said Deal will consult with Attorney General Sam Olens on how to proceed.
“This ruling upholds the most important enforcement elements of our state’s immigration law,” said Brian Robinson, the governor’s spokesman.
The groups suing to block the Georgia law said their fight was not over. The case — including the provision about harboring and transporting illegal immigrants — goes back to Thrash for consideration.
“It’s not the end of the story,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We believe that eventually the law will be struck down…
Read more: Jeremy Redmon, AJC