The United States Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act stole much of the spotlight for the Court over the past few week but just prior to that decision, the Court’s ruling in Arizona v. United States was dominating the headlines. You may remember Georgia’s 2011 immigration law that caused such heated debates? Well, Arizona v. United States could impact the legality of Georgia’s 2011 law because the Georgia and Arizona laws are very similar. This LegalEeze special will explain Georgia’s law, the Court’s ruling, and the potential ramifications of the holding for Georgia law enforcement officials and legislators.
The Georgia Law
Governor Nathan Deal signed the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act” into law in 2011. Some of the key provisions of the Act were:
(1) new requirements on documentation needed to work for or operate a business in Georgia;
(2) new requirements on verifying lawful presence in Georgia;
(3) new criminal penalties for immigration violations; and
(4) new procedures that law enforcement officials may use to verify immigration status.
While very similar to the Arizona law, Georgia’s law placed more focus on hiring and aiding illegal immigrants whereas the Arizona law placed more focus on criminalizing illegal immigrants. This distinction may very well be the distinction which Georgia relies on when defending the law.
Arizona v. United States
In Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself because of the work she had done on this issue prior to becoming a Justice), struck down nearly the entire Arizona law, including the following:
(1) Arizona’s attempt to make it a crime to be in the state without immigration papers;
(2) Arizona’s attempt to criminalize illegal immigrants for holding or applying for a job in Arizona; and
(3) Arizona’s attempt to allow law enforcement officials to arrest people for crimes that could lead to deportation.
The Court took a “wait and see” approach with Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision which allows police to arrest and hold people suspected of being illegal immigrants until their immigration status can be confirmed.
The Court allowed Arizona the opportunity to see if they could enforce this “show me your papers” provision without violating the civil rights of those detained (i.e. not “delay the release of detainees for any reason other than to verify their immigration status”).
What This May Mean for Georgia
The Georgia law is currently under review in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a subordinate court to the Supreme Court. If Georgia’s law were identical to the Arizona law gutted by the Supreme Court, the 11th Circuit would have no choice but to strike down Georgia’s law. But, the laws are not necessarily identical.
The “show me your papers” provision which the Court let stand in Arizona may very well survive in Georgia. Georgia allows for such a “paperwork check” when an individual is detained for “a violation of state or federal criminal law but . . . not . . . a violation of a county or municipal law, regulation, or ordinance”. As such, a driving violation not involving the violation of a state law would NOT allow Georgia authorities to demand to see proof of identity or immigration status.
The legal battle over Georgia’s law will continue despite, or perhaps because of, the Supreme Court’s ruling. Georgia business owners and law enforcement officials should follow the 11th Circuit’s rulings until the issue is ultimately resolved. There are many similarities but also many differences in the two laws and as such, the constitutionality of Georgia’s law is far from settled despite the Court’s ruling in Arizona v. United States.