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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other state officials asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss a federal lawsuit that seeks to block the state's crackdown on illegal immigration, one day after another lawsuit was filed seeking federal government intervention against the new law.
The earlier lawsuit, filed by civil liberties groups, asks a judge to declare Georgia's law unconstitutional and to block it from being enforced. The groups last week asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash to prevent the law from taking effect until the lawsuit has been resolved.
Thrash said Friday he will hear arguments June 20 on that request. He also said he would hear arguments that day on the state's motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss says the civil liberties groups lack standing and have failed to state a claim. It says the state should be immune from such lawsuits.
Atlanta-area lawyer Jerome Lee filed another federal lawsuit Monday on behalf of the Association of Persons Concerned with HB 87. The suit says the organization consists mainly of attorneys who represent immigrants and also includes immigrants and civic organizations. It says the plaintiffs "stand to be injured economically and non-economically" by the law.
Lee's lawsuit names President Barack Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as defendants. The Justice Department said Tuesday it had no comment on the suit.
Lee acknowledged the civil liberties groups' lawsuit in a statement and said that his suit is a "last, desperate plea for help to our President."
"Despite our hope and faith that the other lawsuit against HB 87 will prove to be successful, we still feel compelled to prepare for the worst, as the stakes are simply too high," Lee wrote in a statement.
Georgia's new law authorizes law enforcement to check the immigration status of a suspect who cannot provide accepted identification and to detain and hand over to federal authorities anyone found to be in the country illegally. It also penalizes people who, during the commission of another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
Most parts of the law are set to take effect July 1. A requirement for many employers to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new hires is set to be phased in starting in January.
Lee's lawsuit cites similarities between Georgia's law and another that was enacted last year in Arizona and is tied up in courts. The Justice Department intervened in Arizona, arguing the law intrudes on the federal government's exclusive powers to regulate immigration. The government also warned the Arizona law could disrupt diplomacy between the U.S. and Mexico. A federal judge last year blocked parts of that law from taking effect. A federal appeals court judge upheld the decision and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said she plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite the similarities between the circumstances in Georgia and Arizona, the federal officials named in the new lawsuit "have arbitrarily and capriciously decided not to undertake the discrete and obligatory action of intervening in the courts to halt the implementation of the State of Georgia's immigration law," Lee's lawsuit claims.
In response to backlash from its action in Arizona, the federal government has "consciously and expressly adopted a general policy" of not intervening when states encroach on immigration regulation which should be its exclusive domain, the lawsuit says.
It blames the federal government's failure to act in Georgia and Utah for a "flood" of similar state laws.
Neighboring Alabama last week enacted an anti-illegal immigration law that critics and supporters have called the strictest in the country. Multiple groups have already vowed to sue to block it.
The federal government did not intervene in Utah, where a law similar to Georgia's was enacted earlier this year. After civil liberties groups sued, a federal judge last month temporarily blocked that law, citing similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona's law. A hearing is set for mid-July to determine if the law can go into effect.
Kate Brumback can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/katebrumback.