On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash heard arguments from civil rights groups and the state of Georgia concerning the immigration law scheduled to go into effect July 1. Reports from the hearing generally painted a picture of Judge Thrash, a Clinton appointee, as skeptical of the state’s arguments in defense of the law. In particular Thrash appeared critical of the discretion that the law will grant to local and state police to target certain people suspected of being undocumented, while leaving others alone when it is convenient (such as when the suspected undocumented immigrants are picking crops or working in restaurants rather than attending public school).
Now, Jim Galloway at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has shared the court transcripts, which show that Judge Thrash didn’t let Devon Orland, the assistant attorney general defending the law, get far into her rebuttal of the plaintiffs’ case before launching into a series of pointed questions about the potential for civil rights violations that are built into the law:
Thrash: ….I mean, you may have one county that says, okay, we don’t like all these Hispanic children in our schools so we are going to make it really tough on anybody that we suspect could be in this country illegally, and we are going to arrest them and detain them until they leave our county – except they can come here for two months to pick our Vidalia onions, and we are not going to bother them then.
And then we like the people down at the Mexican restaurant, like the food there, so we are not going to bother the cook. And we are not going to bother the guy that does the mayor’s yard work. They’re a nice family, and we are going to leave them alone. But we are going to make life so difficult for everybody else that they are going to leave – except the ones we need to pick our crops or do yard work or wash the dishes in the restaurant.
I mean, you are not going to have 50 systems of immigration regulation. In Georgia, you are going to have 159. Every county, every municipality is going to decide what its immigration policy is going to be under this law.
Orland: I certainly understand the court’s concern. But I would suggest it’s probably no different for any other criminal statute, particularly one that would be considered discretionary on the part of law enforcement. So some jurisdictions enforce speeding laws and failure to maintain lane a little differently than others.
Thrash also repeatedly asked about the law’s complexity and its targeting not just of immigrants, but also people who are here legally or are U.S. citizens but who happen to be around undocumented immigrants frequently in their day-to-day lives. The most colorful example Thrash used was that of someone detained while driving their undocumented mother to the grocery store; starting July 1, the judge pointed out, that person could be detained and charged for transporting an illegal immigrant.
Orland’s reply was, “It may be unfair. It may be unkind. But that doesn’t make it unconstitutional. It would be no different than if his mother had pockets full of cocaine and he was knowingly transporting her to go sell it.”
But the clearest example of the judge’s disposition toward the law was when he simply asked what the endgame was for the law’s proponents:
Thrash: What does Governor Deal and the General Assembly say is the purpose of this? I mean, is it to drive illegal aliens out of Georgia? Is it to tell–send a message that illegal aliens are not to come ot Georgia; if they are here, they are supposed to leave? What is this supposed to accomplish?
Orland: As we stated in our response to the preliminary inunction, the intent behind it is to avoid the continued public expenditure of funds for illegal immigrants. And, yes, that means that they–
Thrash: They are supposed to leave? They are all supposed to leave?
Orland: Ultimately, if they don’t, then they are still violating the law. They are just out of Georgia. But-
Thrash: So they are supposed to go somewhere else, all of them, with they husbands, their wives, their children, even though they may be U.S. citizens? All of them are supposed to go somewhere else, not come into Georgia,; and those that are here are supposed to leave? Is that right?
Orland: Your Honor, they are here illegally. They need to either get here legally or they need to find a legal place to be.
As reports of labor shortages from the state’s farmers and agriculturalists are already indicating, that’s exactly what appears to be happening already in Georgia.