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Ala., Ga. immigration laws head in front of appeals court
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ATLANTA — Lawsuits challenging Alabama’s and Georgia's laws targeting illegal immigration went back before a federal appeals court Friday as attorneys for both sides asked judges to reconsider the crackdowns in light of a recent Supreme Court decision.

The state of Georgia filed papers with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that its law should be upheld based on the Supreme Court ruling on a similar law enacted by Arizona. However, Alabama conceded that parts of its law similar to the Arizona statute were blocked by the Supreme Court decision while saying other sections should be allowed to take effect, including a provision that requires public schools to check students’ citizenship status.

Opponents in both states argued that lawmakers there overstepped their authority in passing laws that encroach on federal powers.

The Supreme Court upheld a section of Arizona's law that requires police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. It also struck down three key sections that would: require all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; make it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allow police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

The 11th Circuit in March heard arguments in challenges to both Georgia and Alabama’s illegal immigration crackdowns, but the three-judge panel said at the time that it would wait to rule until after the Supreme Court had acted in the Arizona case. Friday was the deadline for lawyers in those cases to submit new briefs based on the Supreme Court ruling.

One part of Georgia’s law that was blocked last year by a federal judge is “more tempered” but “bears close similarity in all respects” to that section, Georgia’s lawyers argue in their filing with the 11th Circuit. Georgia’s law would authorize law enforcement officers to try to verify a suspect’s immigration status during an investigation if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed a criminal violation.

But neither the Georgia law nor Alabama law limits the duration of immigration statute determinations and could lead to people being detained for excessive lengths of time for status verification, the opponents’ court filings argued. The Supreme Court did express concerns about such detentions and said Arizona’s law should be read to avoid concerns that status checks could lead to prolonged detention.

Georgia’s law does not contain provisions that are similar to the sections of Arizona’s law that were struck down by the Supreme Court, Georgia’s court filing says. Opponents of the law say a second section of Georgia’s law that was blocked last year and that would make it a crime to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant during the commission of another offense violates some of the same principles as the Arizona law provisions that were struck down. Georgia’s lawyers argue that that section mirrors federal law and does not hinge on the immigration status of the person committing the crime. But parts of the Arizona law were tossed because they fell under the responsibility of the federal government, not the states, and opponents of Georgia’s law say the state is going beyond its authority because it “prohibits a different, broader range of conduct than the federal harboring law.”

The state of Georgia makes a key distinction between the challenges to the Georgia and Arizona laws. Arizona's law was challenged both by activist groups and by the federal government, while Georgia's was challenged only by a coalition of activist groups and individuals. The Supreme Court heard only the federal government challenge to Arizona's law.

Groups including the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center argued that the Supreme Court ruling that blocked much of Arizona's law means sections of the Alabama law also are unconstitutional. Parts of the Alabama law are "indistinguishable" from Arizona's, opponents argued, including sections that make it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work or fail to register.

Alabama's one-of-a-kind requirement that public schools check the citizenship status of students is unconstitutional because it amounts to an unconstitutional registration scheme, critics of the law claimed. The state argued, however, that legislators' reworking of the law this year eliminated a problematic section and means the citizenship checks should go forward.

Critics argued that changes to Alabama's law didn't fix the problems that made it unconstitutional to begin with.

A big part of the challenges to the state laws targeting illegal immigration has centered on federal pre-emption, whether the states are overstepping their authority by wading into immigration regulation. Georgia argues in its court filing that the private parties that challenged its law don't have the standing to argue against the law on pre-emption grounds.

Critics of the state laws also argue that they could lead to racial and ethnic profiling. The states have argued that the laws specifically prohibit profiling.

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