ATLANTA - Calling Georgia's anti-immigrant law "racial profiling" that threatens to turn Georgia into "a police state," the Service Employees and the Southern Joint Board of their Workers United affiliate - a remnant of old textile worker unions - joined civil liberties groups in suing the state in federal court to overturn the statute.
The Georgia law is identical, virtually word-for-word, with Arizona's notorious anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant SB1070, which civil rights groups and the Service Employees International Union, along with the Obama administration, have halted in federal court, the union said.
Both laws, along with statutes in Indiana and Utah, empower local police to stop anyone they suspect might be an undocumented immigrant, demand immediate proof of legal residence and - if it's not forthcoming - empower the police to detain, arrest and deport the person. All four laws are widely viewed as anti-Hispanic.
A federal judge in Utah halted enforcement of that state's anti-immigrant law pending resolution of the case involving SB1070. That law, challenged on constitutional grounds, is headed for a future test in the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union is also challenging Indiana's statute.
The Georgia law also criminalizes aid to undocumented workers, the ACLU said. That extra provision drew church groups and even the Republican mayor of a small Georgia town into the fray, as plaintiffs on the side of the workers, it added.
SEIU joined the suit "because the law legalizes racial profiling, betrays American values of fairness and equality, and violates the U.S. Constitution," said union Secretary-Treasurer Ernesto Medina, a son of immigrants. "If the law is enforced," he added, "all people may be subject to harassment, unlawful arrest, and detention.
"Immigration is a federal issue. Two courts ruled Arizona's SB1070 preempted federal jurisdiction over immigration, and several other states decided not to copy Arizona in following those rulings. Apparently Georgia did not get the message," he said.
"We cannot and will not stand idly by as Georgia is turned into a police state. We will not remain silent as residents are turned into potential suspects because of the color of their skin. We will not allow racial profiling legislation to undermine our democracy, and erode our civil rights." Medina concluded comprehensive immigration reform, which is unlikely, is "the only way to restore the rule of law."
"This extreme law criminalizes everyday folks who have daily interactions with undocumented individuals in their community, making people of faith and others vulnerable to arrest and detention while conducting acts of charity and kindness," said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.