Two sides of a closely watched immigration debate in Georgia were presented on Monday to a federal judge, who said he would not make an immediate ruling.
The judge, Thomas Thrash, heard arguments on a request by civil liberties groups to block Georgia's law cracking down on illegal immigration from taking effect until a legal challenge is resolved.
The groups have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to find the law unconstitutional and to prevent its enforcement and also filed a request that the judge block the law from taking effect until that lawsuit is resolved. Thrash heard arguments from lawyers for the groups and from a lawyer for the state who said the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Omar Jadwat with the American Civil Liberties Union argued the law is deeply flawed and fundamentally unconstitutional and infringes on federal authority. Senior Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland said the state should be immune from such challenges and that the measure is needed because the state's medical facilities and prisons are being strained by the presence of illegal immigrants.
At the end of the hearing, Thrash said he needs more time to consider the arguments because the legal and constitutional issues at play are complex. He expects to decide on the attempt to block the law and the request to dismiss the lawsuit before July 1, when most parts of the law take effect.
Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens and other state officials are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The measure authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot provide identification and to detain and hand over to federal authorities anyone found to be in the country illegally. It also penalizes people who, while committing another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
The civil liberties groups argue the law could encourage racial profiling. The provisions that penalize people for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants in certain situations also could punish people for innocent interactions with illegal immigrants, Jadwat said.
Georgia's law has provisions similar to those in laws enacted in Arizona, Utah and Indiana.
A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona's law last year after the U.S. Department of Justice sued, arguing that only the federal government can regulate immigration. A federal appeals court judge upheld the decision, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ACLU and other civil liberties groups filed a complaint claiming the Utah law was an unconstitutional burden to legal immigrants and too much like portions of Arizona's immigration law. A federal judge last month temporarily blocked that law, citing similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona's law. A hearing is set for mid-July to determine if the law can take effect.
Another section of the Georgia law set to be phased in starting in January will require many businesses to check the immigration status of new hires. A separate Arizona law with the same requirement was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A federal judge in Indiana is set to hear arguments Monday as she considers a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center, which are seeking an order to stop that state's law from taking effect next month.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.