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Both sides claim immigration win in Georgia

ATLANTA -- Opponents of Georgia’s immigration law are hopeful that Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court tossing out key provisions of Arizona’s law means they can eventually win their legal challenge.

But supporters and Gov. Nathan Deal are also claiming victory, saying the justices affirmed states’ rights to assist in enforcing federal immigration law.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a provision Monday that requires police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is not in the country legally. Those pushing for tougher immigration laws in Georgia hope the high court’s support for that measure will free up a similar statute in the Georgia’s law that was put on hold by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta.

“It will definitely affect everybody. I have not digested (the Supreme Court ruling) completely,” said Moisés Vélez, editor of ¿Qué Pasa? Hispanic newspaper.

As for the court upholding a portion of Arizona’s law that lets police check a per­son’s immigration status while enforcing other laws, if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the United States illegally, Vélez said, “the problem is they want to use that excuse to search people.”

He also said he thought that provision could lead to racial profiling and encourage Georgia lawmakers to seek similar laws here.

“I don’t think it will go down the way the Supreme Court intended it,” Vélez said.

The Georgia case was in limbo until the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona. Georgia’s law makes such immigration status checks legal but does not require them to be done like Arizona.

“The only part of the Georgia law remotely associated with the Supreme Court decision today was upheld, and that should be viewed as a victory,” said D.A. King, founder of the Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and helped craft the state’s law.

Deal, who was not available for an interview, released a statement praising the ruling.

“It appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state’s statute: That states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law,” he said.

But immigration advocates say the other side is misreading the court’s ruling. In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that while they were upholding the “show me your papers” requirement, they also left the policy open to further legal challenge under racial profiling and civil rights statutes.

“If Georgia wants to enforce it, they will have to check the immigration status of every single person they stop and detain. It can’t be optional,” said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“This is a massive defeat for those who believe states can regulate immigration. I think it’s funny that anybody could read that decision and come to any other conclusion.”

The Supreme Court also threw out several provisions of Arizona’s law, including one requiring all immigrants to carry registration papers and another that allows police officers to arrest people on immigration charges.

Telegraph writer Linda S. Morris contributed to this report.

The court left untouched one complaint raised in numerous lawsuits in states with similar immigration laws -- that immigration crackdown laws encourage police to engage in racial profiling. That leaves open the possibility that lower courts, such as the 11th Circuit, could still overturn parts of various laws based on those arguments.

“The rights of people in the states such as Arizona and Georgia and other states are compromised,” said Azadeh Shahshahani with the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia, which helped lead the charge against the state’s immigration law. “The fact the court didn’t block this particular provision, we’re disappointed about that.”

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