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List of State Immigration Laws Blocked in Federal Court Grows Longer

Judges challenge expanded use of E-Verify.

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Last week, we noted that several states' tough, new immigration laws have been challenged [1] in court. Arizona and Utah both recently had key parts of their laws blocked by federal judges.

Now, add Georgia and Indiana to the list. 

Yesterday, a federal judge in Georgia blocked the most contentious provisions [2] of the state’s new immigration law. The judge ruled that requiring police to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot produce identification amounted to “an end-run” around federal law. Another broadly written provision making it a crime to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant was also blocked. U.S. District Judge Tom Trash ruled that had the provision been allowed to go into effect, it would be illegal to give a ride to a friend who is undocumented: “This is a good reason to require supervision of any attempts by Georgia to enforce illegal immigration law,” he wrote.

The ruling follows another decision by another federal judge on Friday to temporarily block key parts [3] of Indiana’s new immigration law. According to that judge, the state’s attempt to enact an immigration law without infringing on federal authority was “seriously flawed and generally unsuccessful.”  

But in both cases, the judges upheld provisions that expanded the use of E-Verify, a federal program that allows employers to check the eligibility of prospective employees. Critics have said its error rates [4] render it ineffective. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the program “accurately detects the status of unauthorized workers almost half of the time [5].”

Nonetheless, Georgia’s law makes E-Verify mandatory for all employers. That appears to have put a strain on the state’s agricultural industry [6], which has had to scramble for workers [7] as undocumented workers have fled to avoid the crackdown. Indiana’s law requires state and local government contractors to use E-Verify and gives any employer using E-Verify a break from some new penalties [8] if they’re caught employing an undocumented worker, the Indianapolis Star noted. Both those provisions are slated to go into effect on Friday.

South Carolina and Alabama will likely be next in line for court challenges. South Carolina’s governor signed a law yesterday [9] requiring employers to use E-Verify and requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they’ve stopped and suspect is undocumented. Alabama enacted its law earlier this month and, according to USA Today, supporters of the law are actually looking forward to a challenge [10]

Michael Hethmon of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which has been helping state lawmakers draft Arizona-like laws around the country, said Alabama legislators were hoping for a legal challenge when they passed their law, thinking they could get a different ruling than the one issued in Phoenix by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who blocked the Arizona law last year.

The Alabama legislators "looked at Judge Bolton's reasoning and said, 'We're not on the left coast here, we're in the 11th Circuit, and we think we're going to get a different interpretation by a different judge,'" Hethmon said.

So far, politics haven’t appeared to play a significant role. Judges in four separate circuit courts—both Democrat and Republican appointees—have moved to block what they’ve said are overreaching immigration laws.

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