Thu., March 1, 2012 9:00am (EST)

Court Hears Immigration Challenges
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 2 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
Protesters gathered Thursday while the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard challenges to the Georgia and Alabama laws filed by civil liberties and immigrant rights groups and the federal government’s challenge to Alabama's law. (Photo By Jeanne Bonner.)
Protesters gathered Thursday while the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard challenges to the Georgia and Alabama laws filed by civil liberties and immigrant rights groups and the federal government’s challenge to Alabama's law. (Photo By Jeanne Bonner.)
A federal appeals court in Atlanta heard arguments Thursday in the case against Georgia’s immigration law. But the judges say they won’t rule until after the U.S. Supreme Court settles a case against a similar law enacted in Arizona.

The judges asked the state’s attorney what would happen if every state -- like Georgia -- passed its own immigration law.

They said it could create new burdens for federal immigration officers.

Attorneys suing Georgia argue that the law violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That says federal law trumps state law.

But Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens says the state and federal governments often work together on law enforcement.

He cites two initiatives where the federal government asks local police for help in tracking illegal immigrants:

“We have programs such as 287g and Secure Communities," he said outside the courtroom. "It is extremely common for law enforcement to work both on the state and federal area together, and what we need quite frankly is more of that collaboration, rather than less.”

Olens said Georgia and other states have only enacted immigration laws because officials felt they had to do something.

But Marielena Hincapie, one of the attorneys suing Georgia, says state immigration laws undermine the federal government’s jurisdiction over the issue.

“We will have a patchwork of 50 states with completely different immigration laws where every single person will be treated differently in Georgia, Alabama, Minnesota, New York, California, you name it,” said Hincapie, who's executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

A federal judge has already blocked parts of the law that would allow police to check the immigration status of some suspects and punish anyone who harbors illegal immigrants while committing another crime.

The hearing Thursday in 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pertained to the state’s appeal.

Arguments in the Arizona case will begin in the High Court in April.