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Common thread present in immigration law challenges

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Anti-illegal immigrant proponents say it is too early to draw conclusions
  • Six states have passed tough laws cracking down on illegal immigration
  • Challenges have been put forth in four of those states, with action promised in the other two
  • Provisions calling for immigration checks by local police have been blocked

(CNN) -- With a federal judge striking down the most controversial parts of a tough immigration law in Georgia this week, a pattern has emerged of how such laws are being interpreted at the federal level, though their final fate remains uncertain.

Anti-illegal immigration measures have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Alabama. Parts of those laws have been suspended in four of those states, pending resolutions to the lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama has vowed to file a lawsuit against the immigration law in that state, which is slated to go into effect in September. The ACLU has also said it will challenge the South Carolina law.

Some parts included in all four of the laws that have been challenged have been struck down in those states.

One measure that has met challenges at every turn has been the one allowing police to inquire about immigration status when questioning suspects. Opponents have said that this will lead to racial profiling, and federal judges have agreed.

Under the Georgia law, police are allowed to inquire about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations. A federal judge blocked that provision.

The Arizona law stipulated that police officers have the authority to check a person's immigration status if officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is in the country illegally. That, too, was blocked by a federal judge, and upheld by a three-judge panel at the appeals level.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said her legal team decided to appeal the case directly to the Supreme Court, rather than ask the 9th Circuit to revisit the issue, because "there is greater likelihood that legal questions surrounding SB 1070 will be resolved quickly so that the law can begin to do its job."

In Utah, lawmakers passed a trio of immigration laws, one of which required police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for felonies or some misdemeanors. But a federal judge there blocked the law altogether.

Indiana lawmakers considered a similar provision in their immigration law, but it was stripped before it was passed.

The rulings did not deter South Carolina and Alabama lawmakers, who included the provision in that state's law.

The initial rejection of the provisions shows that "attempts by state governments to make up their own procedures for immigration are all areas that states can't go into," said Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU.

From his point of view, the trend in these cases is very clear: Any attempt by states to enforce federal immigration laws is unconstitutional.

While many parts of the tough anti-illegal immigration measures have gone into effect, it is the enforcement provisions that have been their hallmark, he said.

Even though some states went forward with including such a provision in their immigration bills, Jadwat said there is a longer list of states that considered such laws and ultimately decided not to proceed.

But waiting is not the same thing as giving up, said Brian Griffith, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocate for stricter immigration controls.

Until there is some definite answer from the Supreme Court or other courts on what provisions of the immigration laws are constitutional, states can save time and money by waiting, he said.

"For those for and against these bills, it makes sense to wait and see what happens," Griffith said.

Also, until there is a definite ruling it is impossible to draw a conclusion from the injunctions and restraining orders that have been issued, he said.

"I don't think there can be any kind of lesson learned until we have an answer," he said.

As for the court injunctions blocking immigration enforcement, Griffith pointed out that there already exists a federal program that allows local police with proper training to help federal agencies enforce immigration laws.

Other provisions in the various laws have also been blocked, at least for now, but they are different enough that patterns are more difficult to discern.

In Georgia, a provision that would punish people who, during the commission of crime, knowingly transport or harbor unauthorized immigrants was blocked.

Meanwhile in Arizona, a provision making it illegal to hire day laborers if doing so impedes traffic was allowed to go into effect.

A part of the Georgia law that went into effect says that workers convicted of using fake identification to get jobs could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000.

In Indiana, a federal judge put on hold a part of the immigration law that would prohibit anyone other than a police officer from accepting or offering a consular identification as a valid form of ID.

Other provisions that have survived the initial court battles include one in Arizona that bans "sanctuary cities," or municipalities with laws or policies that render them relatively safe for undocumented immigrants. Also in Arizona, the federal judge allowed parts of the law dealing with sanctions for employers who hire illegal immigrants to take effect.