More state anti-immigrant laws face battle at federal level in U.S.

08:40, June 01, 2011      

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It becomes a battle between Republicans and Democrats, local states and the federal government, conservative mainstream residents and new immigrants as more states in the United States have passed or prepared to pass anti- immigrant laws.

Arizona became the first state in the country to pass an anti- immigrant law last year. Utah followed suit to pass its own version of the anti-immigrant law earlier this year. On May 13 this year, Georgia became the third to have an anti-immigrant law.

Supporters of the laws do not like to call it an "anti- immigrant law," while opponents call it the "Show Me Your Papers" law. The three laws from Arizona, Utah and Georgia are similar, with the Arizona law as the model.

It is called the "Show Me Your Papers" law because it authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of certain suspects and to detain them if they are in the country illegally.

Before that law, only federal law enforcement officers can check the immigration status, but now any law enforcement officers can stop anyone they believe to be suspicious and check their immigration status. If anyone was found without proper documents, they will be detained until their immigration status can be verified.

The law also requires private employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires. It is set to be phased in, with all employers with more than 10 employees required to comply by July 2013.

It also penalizes people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants, and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.

Democrats and civil rights organizations oppose such laws at the state level.

Members of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice last Friday requested a Utah district court judge to issue an injunction that prevents Utah's new immigration enforcement bill, HB 497, from taking effect.

Leading a diverse coalition of 22 civil rights organizations, including those in Utah, the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Asian American Institute and Asian Law Caucus filed an amicus curiae, or friend- of-the-court, brief to support the plaintiffs in Utah Coalition of La Raza v. Herbert.

"It is the role of the federal government, not the states, to fix our broken immigration system," said Karen Narasaki, AAJC's president and executive director.

"If implemented, Utah's draconian law will invite racial profiling, divert law enforcement, separate families and criminalize citizens. Furthermore, it encourages a law enforcement scheme where families will fear that every trip out of their home may potentially result in a night in police detention," said Narasaki in a statement.

Nicknamed the "Show Me Your Papers" law, HB 497 was signed into law by Utah Governor Gary Herbert on March 15 this year. The law compels all people within Utah, residents, visitors and tourists alike, to carry identification papers at all times to prove their U.S. citizenship or immigration status.

Without papers, a person risks extensive investigation and protracted detention until his or her status is verified. On May 10, the federal district court in Utah granted a temporary restraining order that prevented HB 497 from taking effect.

"We led this amicus brief because we want to ensure that HB 497 is never implemented, as this fundamentally unconstitutional law opens the door for law enforcement to discriminate against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other people of color who look or sound 'foreign,'" said Stewart Kwoh, APALC's executive director.

"We have faith the court will block this modern-day version of the 1892 law that required all persons of Chinese origin to carry with them at all times a 'certificate of residence' or risk arrest and imprisonment," Kwoh stressed.

The amicus brief argues that the recently enacted HB 497 will disproportionately harm communities of color and encourage racial profiling.

Also, enforcement of HB 497 will erode the trust between communities and law enforcement, leading to a chilling effect on crime reporting and cooperation with police investigations, it adds.

The brief warns that the unconstitutional bill will unravel decades of progress Utah has made to become a more inclusive state.

The Georgia law faces similar challenges. Soon after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed it into law on May 13, Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he was working with several national groups to pull together a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law.

He said the law is unconstitutional and he will try to keep it from taking effect.

The federal government, led by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has taken action attempting to block such state laws. In July last year, the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint in a federal court in Phoenix, which argues S.B. 1070, the Arizona anti- immigrant law, will "cause the detention and harassment of authorized visitors, immigrants and citizens who do not have or carry identification documents."

A lawsuit accompanying the Justice Department's request for an injunction argues Arizona's law should be struck down because it violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution that places oversight of immigration enforcement firmly in the hands of the federal government.

Source: Xinhua
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