Judge scuttles one part of Ga. immigration law

A federal judge on Wednesday permanently blocked Georgia from enforcing a key part of its sweeping immigration law of 2011.

At issue is part of the law that would have punished people who — while committing another crime — knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come to Georgia. First-time offenders would have faced imprisonment for up to 12 months and up to $1,000 in fines.

A coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups sued in federal court, arguing the provision is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash’s decision to issue a permanent injunction against the measure was not unexpected, since he had previously ruled against it.

In August, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals supported Thrash’s position, ruling the statute is preempted by federal law, which already prohibits such activities. Last month, the Georgia Attorney General’s office confirmed the state would not appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the order issued Wednesday, Thrash directed the state to inform Georgia law enforcement agencies about the permanent injunction.

Omar Jadwat, the senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, welcomed the judge’s ruling.

“It really is a signal that laws like this really kind of belong to an approach to immigration that is increasingly behind us,” he said.

The author of the law, Republican state Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, pointed out that other parts of the law survived legal challenges from the ACLU and other groups. Among the provisions that survived is one that gives state and local police the option to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects.

“In light of all the legal challenges that have been mounted against HB 87,” Ramsey said, “we continue to be very pleased with the outcome overall.”

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