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Rights groups file lawsuit against Georgia immigration law

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • "This law essentially turns Georgia into a police state," an ACLU official says
  • The Georgia lawsuit is the latest battle in a nationwide skirmish over immigration enforcement
  • The law, known as HB 87, allows police to ask about immigration status
  • Gov. Nathan Deal's office says he is confident the law will withstand legal challenges

Atlanta (CNN) -- Several immigrant and civil rights organizations filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against a new Georgia law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

The lawsuit argues that Georgia's new law, scheduled to go into effect July 1, is unconstitutional.

"This law essentially turns Georgia into a police state, requiring everyone to carry their papers in order to prove that they are lawfully present in the United States, or risk being subject to lengthy detention or investigation," said Chara Jackson, legal director of the Georgia chapter of the America Civil Liberties Union.

The law, commonly known as HB 87, allows police to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations.

It also allows the imposition of prison sentences for people who knowingly transport illegal immigrants during the commission of a crime and asserts that workers convicted of using fake identification to get jobs could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000.

"Georgia's immigration scheme will undermine federal immigration enforcement priorities by subjecting countless individuals in Georgia to detention," the lawsuit says.

The Georgia lawsuit is the latest battle in a nationwide skirmish between state and federal officials over who controls immigration enforcement.

Arizona's controversial law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration catapulted the issue onto the national stage last year, drawing a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, which argues that the law is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers in at least 20 states weighed similar proposals during the past year, according to the National Immigration Forum.

In April, a three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department and against Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed Arizona's law last year. Brewer announced last month that the state would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last month, a federal judge in Utah blocked a strict immigration enforcement law in that state just 24 hours after it went into effect.

The ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Asian Law Caucus are representing plaintiffs in the Georgia lawsuit.

"The courts have blocked Arizona and Utah's laws from going into effect. Georgia should be prepared for the same outcome," said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

But supporters of Georgia's legislation said they were confident it would withstand legal challenges.

"We've known since we started working on this process six months ago that a fringe group like the ACLU was going to file a lawsuit against the bill," Georgia Rep. Matt Ramsey, who authored HB 87, told CNN affiliate WSB.

"We worked very, very hard and very dilligently to make sure that the provisions were drafted with that in mind every step of the way, to make sure that it was ultimately going to pass muster in the courts," he said.

A spokeswoman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia's legislation is markedly different from the Arizona law.

"These organizations falsely claim HB 87 is a copycat of Arizona's legislation. It is not," Press Secretary Stephanie Mayfield said.

The governer expects that judges considering the case will uphold the new Georgia law, she said, pointing to last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld an Arizona law punishing businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

"The U.S. Supreme Court just last week sent a strong message that efforts made by the states to rein in illegal immigration are constitutional," she said.

CNN's Maria Elisa Callejas and Gustavo Valdes contributed to this report.