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Georgia Police can choose whether to enforce immigration law

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The law allows police to check the immigration status of certain suspects

Dec 14, 2012 10:40 am ET

3 minutes read

December 14, 2012 — Law enforcement in Georgia may begin enforcing the “show me your papers” portion of the state’s immigration statute after a judge overturned an injunction against it.

As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the law allows police to check the immigration status of certain suspects and arrest those they believe are in the country illegally. Police have the ability to investigate the immigration status of suspects who they believe may have committed state or federal crimes and who are unable to provide police with identification or other information that would allow police to identify who they are are.

Critics have said that this and similar laws — Arizona has a similar practice — lead to racial profiling, but proponents argue that it protects taxpayer resources by driving undocumented immigrants who could potentially use state resources out of Georgia and note that enforcement is discretionary. Some police departments across the state may choose to enforce this, while others may choose not to.

See also: Georgia immigration law slows admission of health workers

Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police executive Frank Rotondo, in an interview with the newspaper, cited the law’s potential impact on farming communities that rely heavily on Hispanic migrant workers.

“Obviously police chiefs are not going to encourage their people to stop and arrest anyone because they don’t have the right papers,” he said. “You’re going to use a lot of discretion because the economy of the whole community depends on it.”

If police decide to enforce the law and 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 effect, a police chief told the Journal-Constitution that his officials stopped enforcing the law in part because it could take hours for federal agencies to respond.

State Representative Matt Ramsey (R), the sponsor of the law, was unavailable for comment and a press secretary said she had “no comment” on the law, but Ramsey stressed to the Journal-Constitution that the law is discretionary and drafted with the law was an understanding that “federal immigration law is evolving.”

Katie O’Connor, a lawyer with civil rights group Advancement Project, said the law puts police in the “bad position” of having to decide whether to enforce it.

“Any time you give local authorities that much discretion, there’s bound to be problems,” O’Connor said in an interview with ABC/Univision News. “It obviously lends itself to racial profiling.”