Georgia governor signs immigration bill months after UGA killing, worrying Latino advocates

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said the new immigration law he signed Wednesday in response to the killing of Laken Riley would improve public safety, but opponents said it would undermine trust between immigrant and Latino communities and undermine law enforcement.

Georgia HB1105, among other things, requires sheriff's offices to coordinate with federal officials about people in their custody who may be in the country unlawfully or face loss of funding if they fail to do so.

At the signing event, Kemp, a Republican, said the bill “has become one of our top priorities after the senseless death of Laken Riley at the hands of someone in this country who had already been arrested after crossing the border.” , The Associated Press reported.

“If you enter our country illegally and commit further crimes in our communities, we will not allow your crimes to go unanswered,” Kemp said.

But advocates said they have already seen attempts to use local officials to enforce immigration law that backfired.

The February death of Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, intensified the election year's already heated political storm over immigration. Police arrested Venezuelan national Jose Antonio Ibarra, an Athens resident who was previously arrested in New York in 2022 on charges of illegal entry and again a year later on charges of injuring a child under 17. Authorities said he was released by New York officials before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could take him into custody.

Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of GALEO, an Atlanta-based Latino advocacy group, said law enforcement relies on community policing techniques to have “eyes and ears” within the community.

“When there is a loss of trust between the community and law enforcement, [the community] will no longer call if they are a victim of a crime or witness a crime,” he said.

The law sets specific requirements for how prison officials at ICE should check whether prisoners are known to be in the country illegally. The law makes it a misdemeanor for prison guards to “knowingly and willfully” fail to verify immigration status.

The law also requires local jails to apply to participate in the 287(g) agreement with ICE to allow local jail guards to assist in enforcing immigration law. The program allows local authorities to help identify people they detain and who should be deported. President Joe Biden's administration has rolled back the program, the AP reported.

When that program was implemented in Latino-majority Cobb and Gwinnett counties, “I got calls when a crime was committed, not the police,” Gonzalez said. Voters in those counties elected sheriffs in 2020 who ended their 287(g) agreement.

Advocacy groups said that while the law addresses incarcerated suspects, they feared enforcement would spill over into local communities because in some counties sheriff's officers are both prison guards and the local police department.

“We definitely know it will increase racial profiling,” said Dalia Perez, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, which opposed the bill as it passed the legislative session and led three days of rallies against it Organized the signing of the bill.

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union said the 287(g) program has led to abuses and civil rights violations.

According to an ACLU report, the program has allowed xenophobic sheriffs and their deputies to arrest someone they suspect is undocumented under false pretenses in order to direct them to deportation.

Gonzalez said GALEO also documented significant racial profiling in Cobb and Gwinnett counties when their sheriff's offices participated in the 287(g) program.

Immigration attorney Charles Kuck said in a post

Still, Gonzalez said his group will educate community members about their rights if they are stopped by local police.

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The Associated Press contributed.