A federal judge halts Alabama’s immigration law

The news from Alabama prompted people on both sides of the debate over illegal immigration here to offer their predictions on what could happen to Georgia’s law, also called House Bill 87, according to the newspaper The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution.

Alabama’s law,  which mirrors parts of Georgia’s statute , was scheduled to take effect Thursday. But Chief U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Blackburna Republican appointee  nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush,  issued an order Monday, halting the law until Sept. 29.

In issuing her order, Blackburn did not rule on the merits of the legal challenges, saying she needed more time to do so. She said she will issue her decision by Sept. 28. That didn’t stop people here from speculating on what her ruling could mean for Georgia.

Charles Kuck, a local immigration attorney who is fighting Georgia’s law in court, sees the judge’s ruling as a positive development. He and other opponents of Georgia’s law  argue it intrudes on the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration.

“In one of the most conservative states in the U.S., one of its most conservative judges put a temporary hold on the Alabama anti-immigration law,” he said. “Judges do not do this lightly. Here we see yet another federal judge realize what state legislators refuse to see: There is a limit to what a state can do on immigration enforcement, and that limit is found in the U.S. Constitution.”

On the other side, state Sen. Jack Murphy, a Republican from Cumming and one of the chief supporters of Georgia’s new law, said he wasn’t convinced the judge’s ruling would have any effect here. At the same time, he said he is optimistic Georgia will ultimately prevail in court.

“I am not sure that what [the judge] is doing in Alabama is going to affect us at all,” Murphy said. “I think our chances are still very good and that we will be successful on our appeal on that.”

The Justice Department filed suit this month to block Alabama’s law, arguing it is preempted by federal law. Blackburn heard oral arguments last week. Last year, the Justice Department used a similar legal argument to block parts of Arizona’s law.

Civil and immigrant rights groups are suing to block Georgia’s law, arguing it is unconstitutional. Like Arizona’s and Alabama’s laws, Georgia’s statute would punish people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants and empower police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. In June, a federal judge in Atlanta temporarily halted these two provisions in Georgia’s law pending the outcome of the court case.

Georgia is asking a federal appeals court in Atlanta to reverse that judge’s decision, arguing the law is needed to help protect the state’s taxpayer-funded resources. In a brief filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this month, the state Attorney General’s Office said Georgia and Atlanta-area counties are spending tens of millions of dollars incarcerating illegal immigrants and providing them with Medicaid benefits at a time of lean budgets.

A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday called Georgia’s law “an effective, constitutional way to decrease illegal immigration.”

“Now, federal courts are slapping the hands of states trying to enforce the law of the land,» said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal. «It’s mind-boggling that in these tight budget times, the administration is spending money suing states for trying to protect taxpayers. The federal government should be working with us, not against us.»

Critics of Georgia’s law said they read nothing new in the state’s arguments this month.

They also questioned the state’s cost estimates and said immigrants significantly contribute to Georgia by working in many of its key industries, spending money here and paying sales taxes.

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