May 13, 2011
Despite the efforts of numerous civic and community organizations, the influential business community, concerned citizens throughout Georgia and former Georgia State Senator Sam Zamarripa’s compelling letter to the governor, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the controversial immigration bill (HB87) into law on May 13, 2011. Like Arizona’s immigration legislation, Georgia’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 has numerous controversial measures in it to deter illegal immigration to the state. The bill went into effect on July 1.
The Georgia bill gives police the authority to check a suspect’s immigration status, if the suspect is unable to produce a valid ID and if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a “criminal offense.” If the person is verified as an illegal immigrant, police can detain that person or notify federal authorities. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Kuck, a prominent Atlanta immigration attorney, said that the way the bill is written, “criminal offenses” could be as minor as traffic violations. The law also penalizes people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job. Additionally, the law requires many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.
Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials issued the following statement: “Today, Friday the 13th of May, will be a day that will go in our history books as a very dark day for Georgia.” In an Huffington Post article Gonzalez argues that the bill will have “serious economic repercussions that will be felt in Georgia on numerous fronts, and very serious civil and human rights abuses will also likely follow.” Gonzalez was right. The passing of this law has led to thousands of immigrants leaving Georgia, consequently hurting Georgia’s agricultural industry. Many nondocumented immigrants have suffered all types of abuses as well.
For the past twenty years, the Georgia and Atlanta business community have worked diligently to make Georgia attractive for international visitors and businesses. This effort has been undermined through the immigration bill. Now many in the international community will see Georgia as a place that does not appreciate or value people who are not American.
Whether documented or undocumented, it is wrong to criminalize and discriminate against any group of people. It is also immoral to support the separation of families. This law utterly forces nondocumented immigrants to live in the shadows, where they will suffer all types of abuses. Since becoming effective, nondocumented immigrants have and are being charged, detained and incarcerated for petty offenses–even though many times they are innocent of a crime! Additionally, some individuals and professions have created all types of side hustles. Nondocumented immigrants are being charged outrageous service and professional fees to obtain confiscated property (such as cars), to receive legal assistance or even to be released from jail!
The state governments of Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and others are creating a contentious environment through these immigration laws. Real people–children, parents, families and friends–are feeling the pain. Only comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level can end this madness.