Georgia governor signs law requiring prison guards to check immigration status of prisoners

ATLANTA (AP) — Prison guards in Georgia must now check the immigration status of inmates and apply to help enforce federal immigration law. This comes under a bill that gained traction after police accused a Venezuelan man hitting a nursing student to death on the campus of the University of Georgia.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill Wednesday at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. Most provisions come into effect immediately.

The Republican governor signed a separate law requiring cash bail 30 additional crimes and restricts People and nonprofit bail funds from posting cash bail for more than three people per year unless they meet the requirements to become a bail bond company. This law comes into force on July 1st.

Kemp said Wednesday that the immigration bill House Bill 1105“became one of our top priorities following the senseless death of Laken Riley at the hands of someone in this country who had already been illegally arrested after crossing the border.”

Jose Ibarra was arrested on murder and assault charges in connection with the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley. According to immigration authorities, Ibarra, 26, entered the United States illegally in 2022. It is unclear whether he has applied for asylum. Riley's murder triggered a political storm as conservatives used the case to blame President Joe Biden for immigration failures.

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

Opponents warn that the bill would turn local law enforcement into immigration police and make immigrants less willing to report crimes and cooperate with officials. Opponents also point to studies showing that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

The law sets specific requirements for how prison officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should check whether prisoners are known to be in the country illegally. Georgia law previously only encouraged prison guards to do so, but the new law makes it a misdemeanor to “knowingly and willfully” fail to verify immigration status. The bill would also deny state funding to local governments that don't cooperate.

The law also requires local prisons to submit a so-called application 287(g) Agreement with ICE so that local prison guards can help enforce immigration law. It's unclear how many would be accepted as President Joe Biden's administration has de-emphasized the program. The program does not authorize local law enforcement to make immigration-related arrests outside of a jail.

Republicans said Senate Bill 63The law requiring cash bail is necessary to keep criminals in custody, even as it undermines changes that Republican Gov. Nathan Deal advocated in 2018 that allowed judges to hold most people accused of misdemeanors without bail to release.

“Too often we've seen some of our cities or counties, it's been a revolving door of criminals,” said Republican Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones.

Advocates said judges still have discretion to set very low bail. A separate part of the 2018 reform requiring judges to consider a person's ability to pay would remain law.

But the move could leave poor defendants stranded in prison accused of crimes for which they are unlikely ever to go to prison and worsen overcrowding in Georgia's county jails.

It's part of one Republican push across the country to increase reliance on cash bail, even as some Democratic-led jurisdictions eliminate cash bail altogether or drastically limit its use. This divide became clear last year when a The court upheld Illinois' plan to abolish cash deposit while Voters in Wisconsin agreed a constitutional amendment allowing judges to consider a person's prior convictions for violent crimes before setting bail.