ATLANTA Civil rights groups filed a federal class action lawsuit on Thursday challenging Georgia's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigrants, which is similar to one enacted by Arizona last year.
The measure, signed into law by Republican Governor Nathan Deal last month, is set to take effect July 1. The groups said they would seek a preliminary injunction to block it.
"The lawsuit charges the extreme law endangers public safety, invites the racial profiling of Latinos, Asians and others who appear foreign to an officer, and interferes with federal law," said a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations.
The governor's office said Deal expects the state to prevail in the legal challenge.
"These organizations falsely claim (the new law) is a copycat of Arizona's legislation. It is not," Deal's press secretary Stephanie Mayfield said in an email.
"The Georgia General Assembly carefully vetted a piece of legislation that ensured a constitutional final product."
The Georgia law authorizes police to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects they think may be in the country illegally.
It also makes transporting and harboring illegal immigrants a crime and requires many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.
Some farmers complain the legislation is creating a shortage of seasonal workers before it even goes into effect, and Deal has asked the state's agriculture commissioner to assess those concerns.
Enforcement of U.S. immigration laws traditionally is handled by federal, not state, authorities. The Georgia measure is the latest to gain favor among Republicans at the state level who accuse Democratic President Barack Obama and the federal government of failing to stem illegal immigration.
Georgia now joins Arizona, Utah and Indiana in defending its new law in federal court.
Key parts of the Arizona law were blocked by the federal courts after the Obama administration challenged it on the grounds the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration.
The U.S. Supreme Court on May 26 upheld Arizona's right to require employers to use E-Verify. The court also held that Arizona could suspend or revoke business licenses of those companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The 2007 law upheld by the court is separate from one Arizona adopted last year requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked a milder Utah immigration law. The ruling came on the same day the Utah law, passed earlier this year, went into effect.
A hearing is set for June 20 on the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction against the immigration law passed this year in Indiana.
The lawsuit filed in Atlanta attacks the constitutionality of Georgia's law but does not challenge the use of E-Verify given the Supreme Court's recent ruling, ACLU immigration attorney Azadeh N. Shahshahani told reporters outside the state Capitol on Thursday.
The governor's office also made note of the court's decision.
"The U.S. Supreme Court just last week sent a strong message that efforts made by the states to reign in illegal immigration are constitutional," Deal's press secretary said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)