A federal judge's decision to block part of Georgia's new anti-immigrant law is a victory over the state's attempt to highjack federal immigration law and a warning to other states that are contemplating following Georgia's lead.
The decision issued Monday blocked major parts of the law, including a provision that empowered police to check the immigration status of individuals – a provision that would have encouraged the racial profiling of any person who looks or sounds "foreign."
The law also would have made it a state crime to "transport" or "harbor" an undocumented immigrant in the course of committing another "crime" (something as innocuous as speeding or not using a turning signal). As a result, a Good Samaritan or even a family member could have been prosecuted for giving an undocumented immigrant a ride to the doctor or to the grocery store. The judge also prevented this provision from taking effect.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is part of the coalition of civil rights groups, including the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, that challenged the Georgia law earlier this month.
This decision also may help stop the economic damage the state has already inflicted on its economy. Georgia is reeling after a wave of migrant farmworkers abandoned the state rather than face racial profiling and the growing anti-immigrant sentiment that this new law encourages. This could have a devastating effect on Georgia agribusiness, the state's largest industry, which generates an estimated $69 billion a year in revenue.
The fact is, no one wants to feel targeted – even if they have their "papers" in order. We shouldn't be surprised that someone would leave a state where the color of their skin determines how often they're pulled over and asked to prove themselves worthy of being in the state.
Supporters of this law may continue to make excuses for it, but there's no justification for trampling a person's civil rights. It's a simple lesson, but one that some Southern legislators and governors are choosing to learn the hard way through expensive legal battles and self-inflicted damage to their states' economies.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley could have heeded the warning signs in neighboring Georgia, but instead signed into law her state's own anti-immigrant legislation, which bears a striking resemblance to what passed in Georgia. She signed this legislation the same day the federal court blocked parts of Georgia's law. But Haley and other supporters of their law are confident it's all going to work out.
Not to be outdone, Alabama lawmakers have passed similar legislation that has been signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley. Rather than seriously consider what's happening in Georgia, Bentley and legislators chose to increase the ante so they could brag that their law is even tougher.
And, indeed, Alabama legislators threw even harsher provisions into their witch's brew when creating this law. Among the unconstitutional provisions, Alabama's law requires schools – already overburdened in this economy – to collect the immigration status of students and their parents.
These laws undermine our core American values of fairness and equality. As the recent court decision in Georgia has shown, they won't go unchallenged. The SPLC and our allies will fight these unconstitutional and racist laws to ensure the civil rights of everyone are protected.