The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals gave both sides something to cheer about in a pair of rulings on the tough immigration laws enacted by Georgia and Alabama.
Following the pattern set by the Supreme Court decision earlier this summer on Arizona's SB 1070, the Atlanta-based appellate panel upheld some elements of the Alabama and Georgia legislation and struck down others.
The high court allowed the "show me your papers" provision of the Arizona law to stand, while overturning much of the rest of SB 1070, which inspired the harsh immigration laws in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.
Similarly, the 11th Circuit declined to strike down the language in Georgia's HB 87 and Alabama's HB 56 that allows law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
In their 33-page decision on HB 87, the appellate judges said that basing any action on race, color or place of origin is banned both constitutionally and under Georgia law, so that "it is inappropriate" to assume that the state will ignore its own law by enforcing the immigration law in a discriminatory manner.
The judges acknowledged, however, that the "show me your papers" clause could lead in practice to racial profiling.
Turning to the other parts of the Georgia law, the panel sustained a lower court injunction against the article that criminalizes those who transport, shelter or help an undocumented immigrant.
HB 87 went into effect on July 1, 2011, without several of its most controversial provisions, including "show me your papers," after a federal district court ruled in favor of a challenge brought by the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center and other organizations.
Regarding the Alabama law, the 11th Circuit rejected an article that orders public schools to check the immigration status of their students.
The court considered the measure unconstitutional on grounds that it would block undocumented children from registering in school.
The 11th Circuit also tossed out a provision that would bar residents and businessmen from hiring or doing business with people residing in the state illegally.
Alabama's HB 56 went into effect last Sept. 28 and is considered one of the most draconian in the country, going significantly beyond the Arizona immigration law in some respects.
"The essence of Alabama's immigration law has been upheld by today's ruling," Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement. "The Court is recognizing the state's authority to inquire on immigration status in certain circumstances."
Speaking for the National Immigration Law Center, a plaintiff in lawsuits challenging both the Georgia and Alabama laws, executive director Marielena Hincapie stressed the immigrant-friendly aspects of the 11th Circuit decisions.
"Alabamian children can now start the new school year without fear that their citizenship will be questioned, and Georgians can continue to give neighbors and friends a ride without first asking for their 'papers,'" she said. EFE