Georgia Police Can Choose Whether to Enforce Immigration Law

PHOTO: Immigration activists protest Georgias immigration law at a rally in 2011.

Southerners on New Ground/Flickr

Georgia law enforcement agencies may start enforcing the "show-me-your-papers" portion of the state's immigration law now that a judge has lifted an injunction against it.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, the law allows police to check the immigration status of certain suspects and detain those they determine to be in the country illegally. Police have the option to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot provide police with identification or other information that tells police who they are.

Critics have said this law and those like it – Arizona has a similar practice in place – lead to racial profiling, but proponents argue it protects taxpayer resources by pushing undocumented immigrants who might use state resources out of Georgia and note that enforcement is discretionary, meaning some police agencies across the state may choose to enforce it while others may elect not to.

See Also: Georgia Immigration Law Slows Licensing of Healthcare Workers

Executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Frank Rotondo referred to the potential implications of the law in farming communities that rely heavily on migrant Hispanic laborers during an interview with the paper.

"Clearly, the police chiefs are not going to encourage their people to stop everybody and arrest them because they don't have the right paperwork," he said. "They are going to use a lot of discretion because the economy of the whole community relies upon that."

If police decide to enforce the law and they have reason to believe a suspect is in the country illegally, they may contact federal authorities to verify the person's legal status.

In Alabama, where a similar discretionary law is already in place, one police chief told the Journal-Constitution that his officers stopped enforcing the law in part because it can take hours for federal authorities to respond.

State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R), the law's sponsor, was not available to comment and a press person said she had "no comment" on the law, but Ramsey emphasized to the Journal-Constitution that the law was discretionary and written with the understanding that "federal immigration law is evolving."

Katie O'Connor, an attorney with the civil rights group Advancement Project, said the law puts police in a "bad position" of having to choose whether to enforce it.

"Anytime you leave that much discretion to local authorities there are bound to be problems," O'Connor said in an interview with ABC/Univision News. "It obviously lends itself toward racial profiling."

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