State appeals court's decision on illegal immigration law
By Jeremy Redmon
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:34 p.m. Monday, August 15, 2011

A federal appeals court in Atlanta should reverse a lower court’s decision and allow Georgia to enforce key parts of its tough new immigration enforcement law to help protect the state’s taxpayer-funded resources, state officials argued in court papers Monday.

In a brief filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the state Attorney General’s Office said Georgia and Atlanta-area counties are spending tens of millions of dollars incarcerating illegal immigrants and providing them with Medicaid benefits at a time of lean budgets.

Critics of Georgia’s law said they read nothing new in the state’s arguments Monday. They also questioned the state’s cost estimates and said immigrants significantly contribute to Georgia by working in many of its key industries, spending money here and paying sales taxes.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil and immigrant rights groups are planning to file their response by the middle of next month. The state will get a chance to file a rebuttal before a three-judge appeals panel schedules a hearing.

In June, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash ruled in favor of the ACLU and other plaintiffs who argued that two key parts of Georgia’s measure are pre-empted by federal law. Thrash temporarily halted those provisions.

One would empower police to investigate the immigration status of suspects who they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot produce identification, such as a driver's license, or provide other information that could help police identify them. The other would punish people who -- while committing another offense -- knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come here.

Since last year, federal judges have halted similar laws in Arizona, Indiana and Utah. After Thrash’s ruling, much of the rest of Georgia’s law went into effect July 1, including a provision that punishes people who use fake identification to get jobs here.

In the brief she filed Monday, Senior Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland denies arguments that the law illegally intrudes on the federal government's power to regulate immigration. She said Georgia’s measure mirrors federal goals “and furthers the intent of Congress to allow joint enforcement of immigration objectives.