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Georgia GOP advances immigration enforcement bill in wake of Athens

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Georgia GOP advances immigration enforcement bill in wake of Athens

Republican lawmakers in the Peach State are pushing tough immigration legislation following the arrest of a Venezuelan migrant for the murder of a 22-year-old nursing student in Athens, Georgia. If passed, this bill would push state and local police to the front lines of immigration enforcement, an area traditionally overseen by federal authorities.

The explosive development of the bill follows the high-profile murder of Laken Riley and puts immigration policy under scrutiny. As WABE reports, Republican lawmakers in Georgia claim the bill is a necessary response to what they see as a national border crisis. According to Republican Rep. Jesse Petrea, “We have the largest border crisis in our country’s history. In Georgia, the people of this state, the people we represent, expect us to do something. And I think this is a good way to do exactly that.”

However, the proposed policy has raised concerns among immigrant rights advocates and Democratic officials who fear the possibility of racial profiling and the unwarranted demonization of immigrants. Citing studies that indicate undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than others, critics see the bill as a problematic response to a single case. Democratic state Rep. Pedro Marin expressed his concerns: “This bill will force people to live in fear and burden local governments and law enforcement officials by expanding their responsibilities, without a dime of federal funding,” Marin told WABE.

Meanwhile, Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, suggests the bill exploits an opportunistic situation to broadly target the immigrant and Latino communities. “This is not about making Georgians safer,” Gonzalez told WABE, expressing that the legislation is a form of dangerous and divisive politics.

Despite the controversy, the bill has cleared the Georgia House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the state Senate. If passed, it could soon end up on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's desk. Republican Rep. Houston Gaines, who represents the district where Laken Riley was murdered, echoed Republicans' views on the importance of fighting immigration, arguing: “Making policy in the face of an unspeakable tragedy is not policy,” Gaines told WABE. “The right thing to do is to make sure something like this never happens again.”