U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash has blocked enforcement of the most aggressive law enforcement provisions of Georgia’s new illegal immigration law, ruling that they interfere with federal responsibilities to enforce immigration law.
“The [state’s} claim that the new criminal statutes will prevent exploitation of illegal aliens is gross hypocrisy,” Thrash concluded. “The apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust and insecurity that all illegal aliens will leave Georgia.”
That’s pretty much on the nose. And while the judge didn’t offer a conclusion about whether such a goal was good or bad, he did rule that such steps, if they are taken, must be taken by the federal government, not by the states. As a result, “state and local law enforcement officers and officials have no authorization to arrest, detain or prosecute anyone based upon Sections 7 and 8 of HB 87 while this injunction remains in effect.”
However, 21 other sections of the law will go into effect July 1.
In a footnote in his ruling, Thrash pointed out an affidavit filed by Lewis Smith, a 23-year veteran of law enforcement in Georgia and the police chief of the small town of Uvalda. According to Thrash, Smith’s statement “outlines the problems that rural, small town Georgia law enforcement officers will have in trying to enforce Section 8.”
Smith’s statement does that, and a lot more.
“This is going to be devastating to my community and to many other areas of rural Georgia,” the chief’s affidavit reads. “I believe this law will open the door to racial profiling if it is implemented. There are a lot of good police officers, but there are some bad ones out there too, and if the bad ones don’t like Hispanics, for whatever reason, they will have the ability to try to verify that person’s immigration status. I believe that officers in many small towns will rely on physical appearance or way of talking (accent) to determine whether to stop someone and attempt to verify the person’s immigration status.”
Smith also explained the burden that enforcing HB 87 would place on him and other law enforcement officers. After talking with fellow officers, he said, he has come to the conclusion that “police officers in many towns will feel compelled to always exercise their authority to ask about immigration status, making many communities less safe and stretching already thin police forces to their limit.”
In Smith’s case, he is the lone officer in Uvalda, a town of 600 in southeast Georgia. The closest jail is 40 miles away in Soperton, which means that transporting a suspected illegal immigrant to jail, booking the person and returning home would pull Smith off patrol for at least two hours and 15 minutes.
“Because Uvalda is such a small town, everyone in town knows when I’ve left town, and the criminal element often takes advantage of this time to commit crimes,” he told the court.
And about that criminal element?
“The criminal element in Uvalda does not include the population HB 87 targets. In Uvalda, even though we are a small town, we have a big prescription drug problem resulting in break-ins, burglaries and even suicides.” The Hispanics in his town, on the other hand, “are law-abiding people. They have family and kids.”
“In small towns like Uvalda,” Smith told the court, “life is more personal. As chief, I get to know people for who they are, rather than just a statistic or a word such as ‘illegal.’ The immigrants in my community have children, and they just need a chance, just like everyone else does.”