The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia will almost certainly be forced to defend itself in court if it enacts Arizona-style legislation aimed at illegal immigration, several observers predicted Wednesday.
Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Rep. Matt Ramsey’s proposed legislation is unconstitutional, and he predicted the federal government would sue to block it if it becomes law.
“Absolutely, there will be a court challenge on that language,” Kuck said. “This is no less unconstitutional than the Arizona statute.”
Ramsey, a Republican from Peachtree City, said he would not make any predictions about whether his 18-page bill would wind up in court. But he said it has been carefully crafted to address legal issues.
“I would hope the federal government would focus its energies on securing our borders rather than bringing lawsuits against states trying to deal with the consequences of illegal immigration. However, I’m not holding my breath,” Ramsey, the co-chairman of a special legislative study committee on immigration, said Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which is responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants — said her agency does not comment on pending legislation.
Similar to Arizona’s controversial new law, Ramsey’s bill would require state and local law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. It would also authorize police to arrest them if they are in the country illegally and transport them to a federal jail.
The Obama administration has argued that Arizona’s law is unconstitutional and would burden law enforcement agencies, diverting their attention from the most violent illegal immigrants. The federal government successfully sued to halt key parts of Arizona’s law, including the requirement that police check the immigration status of suspects.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, also predicted Ramsey’s bill would end up in court if it becomes law. Gonzalez added the legislation could hurt Georgia’s international tourism and agricultural industries.
“This is going to be a jobs killer for Georgia,” Gonzalez said.
Ramsey’s bill would also require private businesses with more than five employees to use a federal program called E-Verify. That program seeks to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States. A coalition of businesses and immigrant rights groups is suing to stop a similar law in Arizona that requires all businesses to use E-Verify, arguing that it is unconstitutional.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning. But Deal said during his election campaign last year that he would support enacting an Arizona-style law in Georgia.
“He is aware of the litigation involving the Arizona law,” Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, said this month, “and he wants to make sure that Georgia is able to narrowly draft legislation that will meet federal guidelines so that we can avoid a lawsuit while protecting Georgia taxpayers.”
In related developments this week:
- Republican state Reps. James Mills and Tim Bearden introduced legislation this week that would require Georgia driver’s license tests to be offered only in English;
- State Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, the other co-chairman of Georgia’s immigration study committee, is expected to introduce his own omnibus legislation aimed at illegal immigration this week;
- About 40 people — some representing immigrant and civil rights groups and other organizations — appeared at the Statehouse on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers concerning immigration legislation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which organized the event, is planning to lead two more “By the People Immigrants’ Rights Lobby Day” events during this legislative session.