Justice Department reviews Ga. immigration law

The Obama administration is suing to block a similar law in Alabama

Chattanooga Times Free Press

ATLANTA — The Justice Department is reviewing Georgia's tough new immigration law and is discussing it with businessmen and law enforcement officials here, but it has not decided to sue to block the statute like it has in four other states, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tony West said Tuesday.

West pointed out that the Obama administration is suing to block a similar law in Alabama and that both its law and Georgia's statute are scheduled to come under review by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta at the end of this month.

"Certainly, many of the issues we would raise in a lawsuit against Georgia we are raising in a lawsuit against Alabama and are going to be heard by the 11th Circuit," West told reporters after speaking in downtown Atlanta at a symposium on the constitutionality of state immigration laws.

As he left the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy symposium, West added this about Georgia's law: "We still continue to have these conversations. I am not closing the door on anything at this point."

For months, opponents of Georgia's immigration law, also called House Bill 87, have called on the Obama administration to file suit against the measure like it has with similar laws in Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina and Utah.

They say the law is divisive and unconstitutional.

Justice Department officials have responded in recent months by saying they are still reviewing Georgia's law, which is partly modeled on Arizona's groundbreaking statute.

The author of Georgia's law, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 87 into law in May, hailing it as a victory for taxpayers who have borne the cost of illegal immigration in Georgia. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia at 425,000, the seventh-highest total among the states.

A federal judge in Atlanta put parts of Georgia's law on hold in June following a court challenge brought by a coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups. The state is appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

One of the provisions that have been temporarily put on hold would authorize police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and detain those who have been determined to be in the country illegally. Another provision put on hold would punish people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

During a speech he gave at the conference, West said the passage of stringent new state immigration laws shows "comprehensive immigration reform is sorely needed in this country."

"People are understandably frustrated with our broken immigration system, and many states are dealing with that frustration by turning toward a form of self-help by enacting these state measures," he said. "And the problem of course with that approach is that our immigration challenges aren't confined to the borders of any one state. They are national in scope, and they require a national and comprehensive response.

"As we are beginning to see a piecemeal, state-by-state approach that creates a patchwork of conflicting, inconsistent immigration laws, that only creates more problems than it solves."

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