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Both sides see win on immigration law in appeals court ruling

Opposing sides in litigation over Alabama’s and Georgia’s new immigration laws are declaring victory after federal judges decided to prohibit enactment of some controversial provisions, such as schools asking for a child’s legal status in the U.S., and let others, like the “show me your papers” portion, proceed.

A three-judge federal panel at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued its ruling on Monday. The judges enjoined part of Alabama’s law, known as section 28, that requires children attending public schools to show proof of their legal status in the country, a provision that immigration advocates said was intimidating immigrant students and their families (a 1982 Supreme Court case guarantees access to public schools for all children, regardless of status).

“ … section 28 operates to place undocumented children, and their families, in an impossible dilemma: Either admit your unlawful status outright or concede it through silence,” the court said in its decision. “We are of the mind that an increased likelihood of deportation or harassment upon enrollment in school significantly deters undocumented children from enrolling in and attending school, in contravention of their rights under Plyler (the Supreme Court case).”

The court let stand part of Alabama’s law allowing authorities to inquire about the legal status of some people suspected of criminal activity, but it ordered injunctions to block provisions that would make an undocumented immigrant’s failure to carry a registration document a crime and to bar state courts from enforcing contacts with such immigrants, The Birmingham News reported.

“We are pleased that this ruling has sent a strong message to Alabama and other states that they cannot enact hate-filled laws to try to drive an entire class of people from their borders,” Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. “We are thrilled that students returning to schools this week will return to safer and more welcoming environments. We will continue to challenge the provisions left in place because, as we have already seen in Alabama, these laws cannot be enforced without racial profiling.” 

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he believed the “essence” of the law had been upheld with the court “recognizing” the state’s “authority to inquire on immigration status in certain circumstances” and to allow the public records transaction provision to “continue to be enforced,” he said in a statement. 

"This law is needed because the federal government has refused to enforce its own policies. The federal government has also failed to approach immigration reform in a comprehensive manner,” he said. "The core of Alabama's immigration law remains that if you live or work in the state, you should do so legally.  It is time now to move past court battles and focus on enforcement of Alabama's law."

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The judges upheld the controversial “show me your papers” part of Georgia’s law, under which state and local police can investigate the immigration status of suspects and detain undocumented immigrants, but blocked one part that would punish those who transport or shelter undocumented immigrants while committing other crimes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Republican state Rep. Matt Ramsey, who wrote the law, welcomed that the judges maintained parts of it.

“Just as we were pleased when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld one of the centerpieces of the Arizona law that provides law enforcement officials the ability to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects,” he told the newspaper, “we are pleased that the 11th Circuit has upheld a similar provision in our Georgia law.”

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But Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said the court had left the door open to further challenges against that provision, which they would continue to fight.

“The court today rejected many parts of Alabama and Georgia’s anti-immigrant laws, including attempts to criminalize everyday interactions with undocumented immigrants and Alabama’s callous attempt to deprive some children of their constitutional right to education,” Jadwat, of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department and civil rights and immigrant rights advocacy groups filed the lawsuits, media reported.

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