Georgia Governor Signs Law Requiring Prison Guards to Check Prisoners' Immigration Status |  News

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp

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

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 for 30 additional crimes and prohibiting individuals and nonprofit bail funds from posting 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 immigration legislation, House Bill 1105, “has become one of our top priorities following the senseless death of Laken Riley at the hands of someone in this country who had already been 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 killing sparked 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, making 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 jails to apply for a so-called 287(g) agreement with ICE so that local jail 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 63, which requires cash bail, is necessary to keep criminals locked up, even as it undoes changes Republican Gov. Nathan Deal advocated in 2018 that allowed judges to to release most people accused of misdemeanors without bail.

“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.

This is part of a nationwide push by Republicans to rely more heavily on cash bail, even as some Democratic-led jurisdictions are eliminating cash bail altogether or drastically limiting its use. That divide was highlighted last year when an Illinois court upheld a plan to eliminate cash bail, while voters in Wisconsin approved a constitutional amendment allowing judges to consider a person's previous convictions for violent crimes before setting bail .