International Community: Immigration Reform a Necessity

Following the Supreme Court’s split June 25 ruling on Arizona’s tough immigration law, members of the international community in Atlanta are still sorting out legal ramifications of a similar Georgia law still contested in federal appeals court.

Used as a model for Georgia’s own HB 87, Arizona’s law was largely struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled that three of the law’s central provisions were unconstitutional infringements on the federal government’s immigration powers.

The Supreme Court’s decision also comes just after President Obama signed an executive order earlier this month easing the deportation process and providing work permits for thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

Georgia’s immigration law is one of several currently being sued by the federal government in federal appeals courts.

The Mexican government, along with several other Latin American countries, have joined in on the suits, filing amicus or “friend of the court” briefs in each case.

In a statement released to GlobalAtlanta by the Mexican Consulate General in Atlanta, the Mexican government says that it regrets the Supreme Court did not strike down the entirety of Arizona’s law and that similar laws do not acknowledge the many local contributions made by immigrants and may violate their citizen’s civil rights.

“Laws such as these have a high political cost and do not improve the understanding between our societies,” the statement reads. “Implementation of these state laws could result in violations of the civil rights of Mexicans living in or visiting the states where they come into force.”

Local lawyers like Bob Johnson of the Atlanta office of Baker Donelson say that the Georgia’s law must be narrowed to fit the precedent set by Arizona’s case.

“For Georgia’s law to survive, the law must be interpreted to require that state officers only ‘conduct a status check during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released,’ Mr. Johnson said in a statement.

That means local authorities cannot be allowed to detain a person solely to check immigration status, which is a warning by the Supreme Court that any local enforcement that undermines basic civil rights will be deemed unconstitutional, Mr. Johnson said.

Some local political groups have taken the court’s ruling well, mostly with the exception of the ruling’s decision to leave alone Arizona’s “show me your papers provision” but leaving similar provisions, including Georgia’s, open to future legal challenges in the lower courts.

“HB 87 is still before the federal appeals court in Atlanta, and we will await their decision,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the group Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.  “We remain hopeful that the federal appeals court will strike down the police and harboring provisions in a future ruling. “

Generally, state immigration law is seen as a response to a lack of enforcement or reform of federal immigration law, which is why many, including Mr. Gonzalez, are calling for a uniform solution to federal policy.

“With the ruling, the Court has rejected states’ efforts to enact their own immigration enforcement schemes,” he said. “However, it also made clear that a solution can only come from our U.S. Congress working towards a workable solution that moves our nation forward and address the immigration system to reflect our values.“

Representatives from multiple governments are also calling for reform of U.S. immigration policy.

Although a great deal of attention in recent years has been given to the immigration concerns of the Latin American community, other countries have been held up by federal policies, as well.

At a business luncheon the same day of the Supreme Court’s decision, an Irish trade delegation traveling through Atlanta appeared optimistic about the president’s order for undocumented students, although Irish legislators said expedient, comprehensive reform was still necessary.

Irish Sen. Mark Daly, part of the delegation and a member of the Joint Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, told the attendees that, “like a lot of things in Congress,” reform of the U.S.’s visa programs is “stuck in gridlock.”

While some of the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish nationals living in the U.S. could have received proper papers to immigrate here legally over the past half-century, toughened regulations have made it nearly impossible for them to acknowledge officially their current status or ever leave the country for fear of not being able to return, Mr. Daly said.

Despite his welcoming of the president’s order, he added that he did not see immigration reform happening any time soon, particularly in relation to Ireland, considering the scope of the U.S.’s illegal immigration problem.

“Comprehensive immigration reform has been spoken of for a large number of years now and it doesn’t seem to be happening,” Mr. Daly said. “We’re hopeful but we might end up … dying from despair.”

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Photo by Chris Shattuck: Irish Sen. Mark Daly told an Irish Chamber of Atlanta event June 25 that the U.S. was in desperate need of comprehensive immigration reform.

The story first appeared on GlobalAtlanta.com on June 26.

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