By blocking Georgia's attempts to criminalize acts of hospitality, faith, and conscience, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a decision that affects the daily lives of many people in Georgia.
One of these individuals is Everitt Howe, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, a caseworker for his church's community service program. Howe regularly accompanies and drives families and individuals, including those who are undocumented, to hospital visits or other appointments. He fears that could be found criminally liable. Because of people like Howe, we are pleased the court blocked this fundamentally un-American provision.
The ruling was issued pursuant to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations charging that the extreme law endangers public safety, invites racial profiling of people of color and others who look or sound "foreign," and interferes with federal law. The court's ruling made it clear that the state cannot put into effect policies that could interfere with the federal government's regulation of immigration. The court struck down the provision criminalizing daily interactions with undocumented individuals, which would have made people vulnerable to arrest and detention for acts of kindness.
Another part of the law before the court was the "show-me-your-papers" provision. The court reiterated there are limits on such laws under the Supreme Court's decision in the Arizona case. It left the door open to future challenges.
HB 87 promotes racial profiling by giving police officers discretion to determine what information is "sufficient" to prove a person's identity and choose who to subject to an investigation. This will lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds "foreign." The statute undermines fundamental American values of fairness and equal protection.
Law enforcement leaders and police chiefs around the country have cautioned against putting local police in the position of enforcing federal immigration laws for fear it will alienate the communities endanger the public. Many immigrants will not come forward with crime information for fear they will be detained and investigated. As ACLU of Georgia investigations show, immigrant communities in Cobb and Gwinnett already fear the police. They are reluctant to report crime because of these counties' involvement in immigration enforcement. This has led to an atmosphere of terror and isolation for immigrants and less-safe communities.
Take the 2009 case of a woman who called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. Cobb County officers relied on the abuser's account of what happened, as she spoke little English. Her abuser's side of the story was far from honest. She was separated from her infant daughter, spent five days in jail and was placed in deportation.
The ACLU and our partner organizations will forge ahead until unconstitutional provisions of HB 87 are struck down - or until this racial profiling law is repealed in its entirety.
This piece originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.