promoting the human rights of immigrant, migrant, and refugee communities
Posted: 1:42 pm EDT June 2, 2011Updated: 2:12 pm EDT June 2, 2011
ATLANTA — Georgia’s new immigration reform law doesn’t officially go into effect until July 1, but several civil rights organizations announced Thursday they have already filed a class action lawsuit to stop it.The American Civil Liberties Union along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups said in a news release they’ve filed the suit because the new law “endangers public safety, invites racial profiling of Latinos, Asians and others who appear foreign to an officer and interferes with federal law.”"Georgia’s law is fundamentally un-American,” said ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat in the written release. “The courts have blocked Arizona and Utah’s law from going into effect. Georgia should be prepared for the same outcome.”But the Peachtree City lawmaker who wrote HB87 disagrees. State Rep. Matt Ramsey told Channel Two’s Richard Elliot that they expected legal challenges to the new law, so he said they worked hard to make sure it passed constitutional muster.”We’ve known since we started working on this process six months ago that ultimately whatever we put on paper, a fringe group like the ACLU was going to file a lawsuit,” said Rep. Ramsey. “We worked very hard and very diligently to make sure the provisions were drafted with that in mind…to make sure it was ultimately going to pass muster in the courts.”The law, which was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal just last month, requires employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the immigration status of all new employees. The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Arizona version of that same provision.But other federal courts blocked another portion of the Arizona law allowing police to check the immigration status of people they thought might be in the country illegally. Rep. Ramsey pointed out Georgia’s law is different in that police cannot simply check the immigration status of people without cause. They must first be criminal suspects before such a check can take place.”Only if you are unable to provide an approved form of identification or verbal information that will allow the officer to independently verify who you are, only then is an immigration status check going to be warranted,” said Rep. Ramsey. “We think that’s a good, reasonable common sense step.”But Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Mary Bauer disagrees. In the statement, she said, “This law undermines our core American values of fairness and equality.”The plaintiff’s in the class action lawsuit have scheduled a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol at 2 p.m.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The battle over Georgia’s stringent new immigration enforcement law shifted to the courts Thursday when several civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit to stop the measure from ever taking effect.
Phil Skinner, firstname.lastname@example.org Mohammad Addollahi speaks against Georgia’s new immigrant law as the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups announce a lawsuit challenging the law at a press conference in front of the the state Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, June 2nd.
Phil Skinner, email@example.com Sandy Carlberg (left, obscured) and Sandra Riedesel, both from Kennesaw, hold signs protesting Georgia’s new immigration law.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several immigrant rights organizations and individuals are challenging the law in Atlanta’s federal district court. They are arguing the measure is pre-empted by federal law and unconstitutional, and they are asking a federal judge for an injunction, hoping to block the measure before it is set to become law July 1.
The lawsuit was expected. The ACLU warned state lawmakers in February — before they even held their first committee hearing on the law — that it would fight the measure in court. Together with the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU has filed lawsuits to block similar laws in Arizona and Utah. Georgia lawmakers said they knew the lawsuit was coming and said they crafted the immigration law so it would stand up in court.
“Georgia’s law is fundamentally un-American: We are not a ‘show me your papers’ country, nor one that believes in making certain people ‘untouchables’ that others should be afraid to assist, house or transport,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The courts have blocked Arizona’s and Utah’s laws from going into effect. Georgia should be prepared for the same outcome.”
Supporters of the new law say it will help curb illegal immigration in Georgia. They say illegal immigrants are burdening the state’s taxpayer-funded public schools, hospitals and jails.
The ACLU and other plaintiffs are targeting several parts of Georgia’s new law, including one that would authorize police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and take illegal immigrants to jail. The plaintiffs argue that provision intrudes on the federal government’s power to regulate immigration.
After signing the measure, called House Bill 87, into law last month, Gov. Nathan Deal expressed confidence in it, saying state legislators benefited from observing the legal battle play out over a similar law in Arizona last year. A spokeswoman for the Republican governor said Thursday that Deal expects the court to rule in Georgia’s favor.
“These organizations falsely claim HB 87 is a copycat of Arizona’s legislation. It is not,” said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal. “The Georgia General Assembly carefully vetted a piece of legislation that ensured a constitutional final product.”
The author of the bill — Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City — has said he worked on more than 16 drafts of the legislation, partly to protect it against court challenges. Ramsey has predicted the law will withstand legal challenges.
“This is again the ACLU demonstrating that they are out of the mainstream and out of touch with the concerns of average hardworking Georgians,” Ramsey said. “We believe that the provisions of the bill will be vindicated when put to scrutiny in the court system.”
Ramsey has repeatedly pointed out that Georgia’s law differs from Arizona’s in several ways. For example, Georgia’s law makes it optional for police to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot produce identification, such as a driver’s license, or provide other information that could help police identify them. Arizona’s law requires police to check the immigration status of suspects during “any lawful contact” when practicable and when they have “reasonable suspicion” that the suspects are illegally in the country.
Republican Attorney General Sam Olens on Thursday pledged to defend Georgia’s law in court.
“I believe the plaintiffs’ claims are meritless and baseless,” he said. “We will vigorously defend this lawsuit with the full resources of the Attorney General’s office. HB 87 was validly enacted by the General Assembly.”
A federal judge put Arizona’s law on hold last year after the Obama administration argued in court that it interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy. Last month, a different federal judge halted a similar law in Utah, citing how it is similar to the Arizona legislation.
Critics of Georgia’s law had warned the state will be forced to spend taxpayer money defending it in court. As of November, Arizona has paid $1.5 million to a private law firm to defend its immigration law, though that money came from private donations contributed to the state’s legal defense fund.
Opponents of Georgia’s law hope the federal Justice Department will join the court fight against it. A Justice Department spokesman said this week that she had no comment.
The lawsuit is the latest fallout from the governor’s decision to sign the measure. Last week, Deal asked state officials to investigate the extent to which the new law is affecting farm labor shortages in South Georgia. Some farmers complain the new measure is scaring away the migrant workers they depend on to harvest their fruits and vegetables, potentially putting hundreds of millions of dollars in crops in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, immigrant rights organizations are encouraging businesses and conventioneers to boycott Georgia because of the law. Last week, the American Anthropological Association — which claims to have an average annual membership of more than 10,000 — condemned the measure and vowed not to hold any conferences in Georgia until the law is either repealed or struck down in court.
The lawsuit says Georgia’s law interferes with federal authority over immigration matters, authorizes unreasonable seizures and arrests, restricts peoples’ constitutional rights to travel freely in the United States and discriminates against people who hold certain kinds of identity documents. The plaintiffs plan to ask a federal judge next week to halt the law pending the outcome of their legal case.
Among the plaintiffs listed on the 82-page lawsuit are the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the Service Employees International Union, the Task Force for the Homeless, DreamActivist.org, the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center.
Paul Bridges is also a plaintiff. A Republican, he is the mayor of Uvalda, a small South Georgia town near where many Hispanic migrant workers harvest Vidalia onions. Bridges worries he could run afoul of a provision of the law that punishes people who — while committing another crime — knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come to Georgia. He said he sometimes drives people to the hospital or dentist.
“It is going to impact me because I drive people around all the time,” he said during a news conference outside the state Capitol Thursday afternoon. “I don’t ask them for papers when I drive them… This law will make me a criminal come July 1 if the court doesn’t see fit to stop it.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are targeting several parts of Georgia’s new anti-illegal immigration law, including ones that would:
• Empower local and state police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and arrest illegal immigrants and take them to state and federal jails. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue this part of the law invites racial profiling. They also say it could prolong ordinary police stops and authorize police to detain people for lengthy periods of time in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
• Punish people who — while committing another crime — knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come to Georgia. The lawsuit says this part of the state law intrudes on the federal government’s power to regulate immigration.
• Require people applying for public benefits in Georgia — such as food stamps, housing assistance and business licenses — to provide at least one “secure and verifiable” document, which could be a state or federally issued form of identification. Consular matriculation cards will not be accepted. The plaintiffs say this part of the lawsuit is also preempted by federal law, which governs the rules for verifying eligibility for federally-funded food stamps and certain subsidized housing.
The legal war over Georgia’s new illegal immigration law begins today.
The lawsuit by the ACLU and other civil rights groups will be released this afternoon, but a few details are already leaking out:
– Much of the draft is the work of Keegan Federal, the former DeKalb County Superior Court judge;
– One of the main components is the allegation that the law will result in racial profiling, which should surprise no one. The filing will include this line: “All Georgians, and particularly those of color, will be compelled to carry additional paperwork on them prescribed by the State of Georgia at all times.”
– The lawsuit alleges that, even though the new law doesn’t go into effect until July 1, individuals are already being stopped by law enforcement officials, based on their appearance and ability to speak English.
– The suit will also focus on the new law’s ban on transporting or harboring illegal immigrants, arguing that the statute will expose legal residents of Georgia to criminal prosecution for acts of kindness.
In addition to the civil rights organizations, parties to the suit will include a Catholic nun who “”is guided by the Christian principle of welcoming the stranger in our midst.”
She provides transportation and housing to individuals in Georgia without asking their immigration status, and admits she is aware that “a good share” of those individuals are undocumented immigrants.
Another party to the suit will be a Teamster official who says he regularly transports undocumented students, offers rides to undocumented day laborers to and from work sites, and drives undocumented individuals to church in his union-issued, 12-passenger van.
Then there’s the former Air Force lieutenant colonel, now the leader of a multi-denominational group that serves 100 families, including undocumented immigrants, offering English language classes, food coupons and direct aid.
And a Cuban refugee, who has legally resided in the U.S. since 1980, will argue that even though he has the correct paperwork, he can’t satisfy the provisions of HB 87.
Meanwhile, Georgia Public Broadcasting has this:
With a month to go before Georgia’s new immigration law goes into effect, training is underway for police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and others on its details.
An annual workshop on law enforcement issues brought together more than 70 people Wednesday on the campus of Columbus State University.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider
Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
DALTON, Ga. — Of 32 traffic checkpoints conducted by Dalton police this year, most took place in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods or at entrances to the city’s carpet factories where many Hispanics are employed, records show.
The most frequent ticket issued at the checkpoints — representing 22 percent of all tickets — was for driving without a license, which can lead to deportation if the person is in the country illegally.
Some Hispanics in Dalton say police use the checkpoints as a way to target illegal immigrants. But police say preventing accidents and improving neighborhood safety are their goals, and neighborhood ethnicity has nothing to do with the checkpoints’ locations. Nearly half of Dalton’s population of 33,128 is Hispanic, figures show.
“We don’t use ethnicity as any criteria,” Police Chief Jason Parker said Wednesday. “Our goal is to provide the community of Dalton with a safer environment. We view the community in its entirety to implement our strategy to reduce the number of accidents. The numbers are simply a byproduct of that strategy.”
Mayor David Pennington said the police department has not changed its strategy in recent years, and he noted the department is not responsible for Georgia immigration laws.
“I understand there is some anxiety,” he said. “From the city of Dalton’s standpoint, the Latino population is almost half of Dalton and very important to us. If they have any concrete evidence [of targeting Hispanics], we would like to see that.”
Under a 2008 Georgia law, anyone cited for driving without a license must be arrested and taken to jail. Because Whitfield County participates in the federal 287 (g) program that trains local police to enforce U.S. immigration laws, officers automatically check the immigration status of everyone booked into the jail.
Bruce Frazier, the police spokesman who provided the information about the checkpoints, said he did not have information on how many people cited in the checks were Hispanics or illegal immigrants.
Rosario Rendon, a legal immigrant who has lived in Dalton eight years, said many in the immigrant community are living in fear.
Rendon, who was stopped at a checkpoint this year near her house on Grimes Street, said friends often text her to let her know where the police are set up.
“Apparently there was a big one [May 21] where they took a lot of people down on Third Avenue,” she said. “People are really afraid. A lot of people are leaving; they are taking their children out of school.”
Her neighbors believe ethnicity is a criterion for the checks, she said.
“People feel they have the roadblocks in predominantly Hispanic areas. You never see them on Dug Gap Road,” she added, referring to a middle class, mostly non-Hispanic neighborhood.
She said she doesn’t have any problems at the checkpoints because she has a driver’s license but worries that others who don’t might end up being deported.
And under a new law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, people who transport illegal immigrants can be criminally charged. A first-time offense of transporting seven or fewer illegal immigrants is a misdemeanor, but someone convicted of a second offense or who moves more than eight illegal immigrants could be charged with a felony.
“I have family members who are undocumented, so if I give them a ride, that means I can be charged for transporting people without documents,” she said.
But according to the law, which goes into effect in July, someone can be charged for transporting an illegal immigrant only if they are caught doing so while committing another crime.
BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia and Tennessee require people to produce a Social Security number and proof of citizenship or legal status to obtain a driver’s license, so people in the country illegally can’t get one.
Dalton police records for total traffic citations issued throughout the city in the first four months of this year show speeding as the most common citation, with seat belt and child restraint violations coming in second and third.
But the numbers shift for the 278 citations issued at checkpoints. Along with the 63 citations issued for driving without a license, the most common citation, records show there were 19 citations for driving on a suspended license. People cited for both offenses usually are arrested. Frazier said he could not provide information on how many of those arrested were Hispanic.
Out of the citywide citations, 3,011 of the people ticketed were white, 426 were Hispanic and 296 were black, records show.
In the same period, police issued 152 citations citywide for no license and 100 citations for suspended licenses, so more than one-third of the citations for driving without a license took place at checkpoints.
Echoing the overall city numbers, tickets issued for seat belt and child restraint violations were the second and third highest at checkpoints.
Traffic Unit Officer Steve Zahn said police conduct checkpoints in conjunction with state seat belt or drunken-driving enforcement operations, but also at its own discretion.
Recently, the department began targeting high-crime areas with checkpoints, hoping to net more serious offenses such as burglary suspects, he said. The department also makes sure the checkpoints are spread throughout the city, he said.
Records show that, in checkpoints so far this year, police arrested one person on drug charges and served four outstanding warrants.
Parker said police also target areas that have had a lot of accidents recently, if possible.
Checkpoints frequently are set up in the same area, records show. Three have been held at the intersection of Grimes and Nelson streets this year between Jan. 29 and April 23.
And some days see multiple checkpoints. On Jan. 29, six were set up in different places around the city. On Feb. 26, it was five, records show.
Many Hispanics live in the neighborhoods around Grimes and Nelson streets and also in the areas around some of the Jan. 29 and Feb. 26 checkpoints.
In Tennessee, law enforcement officers must provide public notice about the time and place where checkpoints will be held, but Georgia law does not require prior notification.
Policies regarding checkpoints seem to vary from department to department.
Both Cleveland and Chattanooga police said they do not conduct checkpoints within their cities. That is handled by the Tennessee Highway Patrol and local sheriff’s departments with assistance from the police, Chattanooga police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said.
Calhoun, Ga., police conduct four or five checkpoints a month, according to Sharon Jolley with the department. The department also participates in larger checkpoints with other agencies, she said.
A spokeswoman with the Rome, Ga., police department was not able to provide checkpoint information Wednesday.
LIVING IN FEAR
Many in Dalton’s Hispanic community are afraid to leave their homes because they never know when they will have to go through a checkpoint, Nicolasa Nava said.
There used to be frequent checkpoints off Cleveland Highway on Cattleman Drive and Frontier Trail, near where she lives, but they have stopped since most Hispanics have left, she said.
A naturalized citizen originally from Mexico, Nava said she and her husband rent apartments in the neighborhood where they live, but most of the Hispanic tenants either have left or have been detained by the police and deported, she said.
Nava moved to Dalton from Chicago seven years ago but is considering leaving because she feels Hispanics are being discriminated against.
“We’ve [her family] never been treated badly, but you feel bad, you wonder where we are heading,” she said.
Louis Fordham, vice president of resources and facilities for J&J Industries in Dalton, near where at least two checkpoints have been held this year, said they haven’t had an impact on the company’s work force that he knows about.
Parker said the police department has not received any complaints from the community about the road checks or accusations that police are targeting Hispanics. Anyone is welcome to talk to him or other officers about their concerns, he said.
“We want to address those concerns directly — face-to-face communication is the best way to solve problems,” Parker said. “We have worked as hard as we can to remove barriers and provide access to the police department. I try to run this department as closely as I can to the expectations of the citizens, but I don’t know what those expectations are if we can’t have a discussion about it.”
Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6578.
Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at email@example.com or 706-980-5824.