ATLANTA, GA (WABE) – The state’s new immigration law lets local police check the immigration status of criminal suspects who don’t have proper id. WABE News looked into how enforcement might work.
The city of Dalton, carpet capital of the world, is almost half Hispanic. Dalton Police Department spokesperson Bruce Frazier says not much will change when the illegal immigration law goes into effect.
“When the sun comes up on July the 1st, there’s not going to be a huge change in the way that law enforcement does their job, just because we’re still trying to figure out the way that the law works, basically.”
For example, in Georgia a traffic offense is a criminal violation, and it’s up to an officer to take someone in custody. And for some traffic stops, Frazier says, a law officer is required to take a violator in.
“When you’re found driving without a valid driver’s license, it’s a finger printable offense, so you are taken to the jail for that offense.”
Forgetting your license is not a finger printable offense. But what happens if a person committing a minor offense is in the country illegally, and the federal government does not take custody? The new Georgia law says the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association should come up with some guidelines. Oliver Hunter is with the association.
“Well, the sheriff has the decision to make at that point on whether or not he wants to keep that person in the jail. Or if the person can make bond, he’ll obviously be able to make bond too.”
Hunter says local resources will determine if people are detained for minor offenses. But Brian Spears, a civil rights attorney challenging Georgia’s law, says that could lead to indefinite detention.
“The legislation as its currently written does not have a limit on how long law enforcement can detain a person when they determine the person may not have legal immigration status.”
But one supporter of the bill disagrees. State Representative BJ Pak of Gwinnett was on the house judiciary committee that initially approved the bill. Pak says if federal authorities don’t take an undocumented person, the person will have to be processed for the violation that they were picked up for.
“A judge will hold a probable cause hearing, and the prosecutor has to present evidence, saying these are the circumstances. And the judge makes the determination on whether or not there’s facts or sufficient basis to believe that a person has committed a crime.”
This specific portion of the law is being challenged in federal court next week.