Georgia lawmakers advance bills aimed at pro-immigrant policies – WABE

The Georgia Senate on Thursday pushed through bills aimed at forcing local governments to help deport immigrants rather than shelter them. This is part of an ongoing political response to the alleged murder of a nursing student on the University of Georgia campus by a Venezuelan.

The Senate voted 34-18 in favor of House Bill 301, which would penalize cities and counties that advocates say are harboring immigrants in the country without permission by eliminating most federal aid to local governments and ejecting elected officials would be removed from office. Senators also voted 34-19 in favor of House Bill 1105, which aims to require prison guards to check the immigration status of inmates. The majority Republicans all voted for it, while the minority Democrats voted against it.

“This is a public safety issue, make no mistake, and it is about criminals,” said state Sen. John Albers, a Republican from Roswell.

The measures return to the House of Representatives for further debate.

Studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. But Republicans have targeted those in prison since Jose Ibarra was arrested last month 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 was a nursing student at Augusta University's Athens campus. She was found dead on February 22 after a roommate reported that she had not returned from a morning run in a wooded area.

Thursday's votes came hours after a Senate committee passed two less stringent bills, raising questions about what a final immigration package will ultimately look like.

Jason Riley, the student's father, said in a speech to senators Wednesday that the so-called protective measures in the University of Georgia's hometown of Athens-Clarke County “led to the murder of my daughter.” Athens-Clarke Mayor Kelly Girtz has denied that the consolidated municipal district is violating a 2009 state law protecting protections.

Democrats and other opponents say the measures are unnecessary and would lead to racial profiling by police against Latinos.

“It's just a false narrative that elected officials are saying that there are sanctuary cities in the state of Georgia,” said Geovani Serrano, a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights who lobbied against the bills at the Capitol.

House Bill 301 would allow any Georgia resident to sue and ask a judge to find that an agency is violating the 2009 law. If a judge agrees, the state would eliminate state and federal aid it controls, except for a short list of emergency and health care services. For example, a county or city would not receive state money to build and maintain roads.

The bill also calls for the removal of elected officials if cities or counties adopt shelter-in-place policies. Any Georgia resident can complain to the Board of Community Affairs. The board would recommend the governor suspend the official. The governor could then fire the official and appoint a replacement.

Officials could apply for reinstatement, but only if they could demonstrate that their service would improve the government's ability to comply with the anti-sanctuary law.

House Bill 1105 would impose new requirements on prison officials contacting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine whether people are known to be in the country illegally. The bill would make officials who “knowingly and willfully” fail to verify immigration status guilty of a misdemeanor that the attorney general could prosecute. The bill would also deny state funding to local governments that don't cooperate.

“There is no good reason why we should not check someone’s status if we suspect they are in this country illegally,” Albers said.

Democrats warn that the rules would lead to people being detained for extended periods of time, separate parents born elsewhere from children born in the U.S. and fuel distrust of police in immigrant communities. Albers argued that this would have little impact and said few disobedient sheriffs would still not comply.

The commitment to assist ICE would require prisons to apply for a so-called 287(g) agreement to allow local officials to 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.

Albers said even with cooperation, there is no guarantee that ICE will pick up prisoners and initiate deportation efforts. He claimed that ICE is accepting a much lower proportion of immigrants under the Biden administration than before.