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NILC Files Lawsuit Challenging Georgia Law

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Law Would Turn Georgia into Police State and Invite Racial Profiling, Groups Say

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

June 2, 2011

CONTACT: 

Adela de la Torre, NILC, (213) 674-2832; delatorre@nilc.org
Elizabeth Beresford, ACLU national, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia, (404) 574-0851; ashahshahani@acluga.org
Marion Steinfels, Southern Poverty Law Center, (334) 956-8417; marion.steinfels@splcenter.org
Sin Yen Ling, Asian Law Caucus, (415) 896-1701; sinyenL@asianlawcaucus.org

ATLANTA The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the American Civil Liberties Union, and a coalition of other civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit today challenging Georgia’s discriminatory anti-immigrant law passed last month and inspired by Arizona’s notorious SB 1070.

The Georgia law authorizes police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops, criminalizes Georgians who interact daily with undocumented individuals, and makes it unjustifiably difficult for individuals without specific identification documents to access state facilities and services.  The lawsuit charges that the extreme law endangers public safety, invites the racial profiling of Latinos, Asians and others who appear foreign to an officer, and interferes with federal law.

Along with the ACLU and NILC, the coalition filing the lawsuit includes the ACLU of Georgia, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Asian Law Caucus.

“Georgia’s HB 87 is out of step with fundamental values and the rule of law,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney with NILC.  “It gives Georgians a reason to fear that they may be stripped of their constitutional rights simply because of the way they look or sound.  Laws that promote this kind of barebones discrimination are out of step with history and cannot be allowed to stand.  We are confident that the court will agree that unconstitutional attempts to drive a wedge between Georgian communities should not be allowed.”

Georgia is the third state to have enacted laws emulating Arizona’s controversial and costly SB 1070, even though the Arizona law was blocked by the courts.  Utah and Indiana passed similar laws earlier this year.  After an ACLU and NILC lawsuit, a federal district court last month put Utah’s law on hold pending further review.  The ACLU and NILC also filed a legal challenge to Indiana’s law.

“Georgia's law is fundamentally un-American: we are not a ‘show me your papers’ country, nor one that believes in making certain people ‘untouchables’ that others should be afraid to assist, house, or transport,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.  “The courts have blocked Arizona and Utah’s laws from going into effect.  Georgia should be prepared for the same outcome.”

The lawsuit charges that Georgia’s law, HB 87, is unconstitutional because it unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; authorizes and requires unreasonable seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment; restricts the constitutional right to travel freely throughout the United States; and violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution by unlawfully discriminating against people who hold certain kinds of identity documents.

“This extreme law criminalizes everyday folks who have daily interactions with undocumented individuals in their community, making people of faith and others vulnerable to arrest and detention while conducting acts of charity and kindness,” said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Paul J. Edwards, is a devout Christian and a board member of a local faith group, who strongly believes in helping all individuals in his community regardless of their immigration status. As part of his religious commitment, Edwards transports people, including those who are undocumented, to places of worship and to locations that provide medical assistance. Under the Georgia law, Mr. Edwards would be subject to criminal liability for assisting, transporting, and harboring these undocumented individuals.

“This law undermines our core American values of fairness and equality,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “By perpetuating the hate rhetoric that has become commonplace among many elected officials, this law threatens the rights of citizens and noncitizens alike by encouraging racial profiling. Sadly, too, it places Georgia on the wrong side of history.”

Another plaintiff, Paul Bridges, is a long-time supporter of the Republican Party and is the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, a town of approximately 600 people in Montgomery County.  Because Mr. Bridges speaks Spanish and is a well-known presence in the community, he often assists with interpretation in schools, doctors’ offices, court and other settings.  He also provides transportation to undocumented individuals so they can go to church, the grocery store, doctors’ appointments, and soccer tournaments in nearby towns.  If the Georgia law goes into effect, Mr. Bridges and the undocumented individuals traveling with him will be at risk of criminal prosecution.

“Georgia is home to one of the fastest growing Asian populations,” said Sin Yen Ling, senior staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. “This law encourages racial profiling of Asian Americans and immigrants, and must be struck down.”

The lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of civil rights, labor, social justice and faith-based organizations, including Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Service Employees International Union, the Southern Regional Joint Board of Workers United, Alterna, Coalition of Latino Leaders, Task Force for the Homeless, DreamActivist.org, Instituto de Mexico, Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center; individually named plaintiffs who would be subject to harassment or arrest under the law; and a class of similarly situated people.

Attorneys on the case include Jadwat, Andre Segura, Elora Mukherjee, Cecillia D. Wang, and Kate Desormeau of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Tumlin, Linton Joaquin, Nora A. Preciado, Melissa S. Keaney, Tanya Broder, and Jonathan Blazer of the National Immigration Law Center; Bauer, Andrew H. Turner, Samuel Brooke, Naomi Tsu, Michelle R. Lapointe, and Daniel Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Chara Fisher Jackson and Azadeh N. Shahshahani of the ACLU of Georgia; G. Brian Spears; Ling of the Asian Law Caucus; R. Keegan Federal, Jr. of Federal & Hassan, LLP.; and Charles H. Kuck and Danielle M. Conley of Kuck Immigration Partners, LLC.

View copy of the complaint. (PDF)

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