Many await the judge’s decision


By Jeremy Redmon


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

1:58 p.m. Saturday, June 25, 2011

Billy and Kathy Inman of Woodstock will be listening closely when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash issues his decision this week.

Thrash is weighing if he should put on hold Georgia’s stringent new immigration enforcement law, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the measure’s constitutionality.

The Inmans have a vested interest in Thrash’s decision. Their teenage son was killed 11 years ago when a vehicle driven by an illegal immigrant slammed into their car. They want to make it harder for illegal immigrants to settle in Georgia.

The new law, they believe, would do just that.

The law, set to take effect Friday, would empower local and state police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and arrest illegal immigrants. But critics say the law is unconstitutional because it invites racial profiling and authorizes police to detain people for lengthy periods in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the two months since the law was passed, pundits, politicians and interest groups have had plenty to say on the topic. But Georgians across the state — like South Georgia farmer Gary Paulk, local activist Judy Craft, illegal immigrant Fernando Juarez and police chief John King — are also anxiously waiting to see what will happen, and many have a personal stake in the results.

Dustin Inman’s room is, for the most part, the same as it was on the day he died.

The teenager’s miniature race cars and lava lamp are still on a shelf. His BB gun is still propped up in its glass case. And his easy chair still points to the PlayStation video game console he played with his father. Leaving Dustin’s room intact helps Billy and Kathy Inman feel close to their son.

Dustin was killed in a car crash in 2000. A man smashed into the rear end of their car at high speed as they were stopped at a red light in East Ellijay. The family was headed to a Father’s Day weekend cookout in Hiawassee. The crash knocked Billy and Kathy unconscious. Kathy remained in a coma for five weeks and didn’t get out of the hospital for three months. Her medical bills topped $1 million. She still uses a wheelchair.

The driver who hit them, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, fled from the hospital where authorities took him after the wreck. A native of Mexico, the man was illegally in the country at the time of the accident, according to the FBI. He is still at large.

Billy blames the federal government’s failure to secure the nation’s borders for the death of his son, saying of Harrell-Gonzalez, “If the laws had been enforced, he would not have been here.