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Appeals court defers on state immigrations laws

From Gustavo Valdes, CNN
updated 2:24 PM EST, Thu March 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An appeals court deferred action on challenges to immigration laws
  • The court will wait until the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona immigration law
  • Some provisions of the Georgia and Alabama laws have been blocked

Atlanta (CNN) -- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals announced Thursday that it will not render an opinion on the challenges to tough laws against illegal immigration in Georgia and Alabama. The appeals court will let the Supreme Court first make a decision in a case regarding a similar law in Arizona.

The three-judge panel made the announcement before the start of a planned hearing on such laws passed by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama.

Both states in December filed a motion to halt the proceedings in the case following the Supreme Court's decision to consider the Arizona immigration law. The appeals court denied the motion at the time.

Arizona's law, aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, catapulted the issue onto the national stage in 2010, drawing a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, which argues the law is unconstitutional. Since then, several other states have passed similar measures.

Alabama's law, known as HB 56, considered the toughest in the nation, would require police who make lawful traffic stops or arrests to try to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally. But recently, a federal appeals court at least temporarily blocked some provisions, including one requiring Alabama officials to check the immigration status of children in public schools.

In Georgia, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against its law, HB 87, temporarily blocking key provisions.

The sections would allow police to inquire about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations. They also would punish people who, during the commission of a crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants. Something like speeding or driving without proper equipment could constitute a crime.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange issued a statement saying he expects the law to be found constitutional, and it is designed to work in cooperation with federal policies.

"Congress has a policy against illegal immigration," he said. "Alabama's law is consistent with what Congress wanted. It is ironic that in this case, the Obama administration is hoping to stop the operation of Alabama's law and to undermine the purposes of Congress."

Civil rights groups, which on Thursday argued before the judges that the laws are unconstitutional, highlighted that Thursday's decision still means that parts of both laws are blocked until a higher ruling is made.

Until the appeals court issues a decision, the lower courts' rulings in both cases will remain in effect.

"Alabama and Georgia are home to burgeoning Asian American communities and we are deeply concerned that HB 56 and HB 87 will only cause more fear and isolation among these communities," said Marita Etcubanez, director of programs at the Asian American Justice Center.

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