According to Arizona’s leadership, Georgian law passed a tough measure on Thursday to allow police to review the immigration status of “criminal” suspects and to force many companies to do the same with potential employees.
The bill was passed in the last hours of the legislature despite the screams of critics. Immigrant lawyers threatened a state boycott if it became law, and Georgia’s powerful agribusiness warned, among other things, that federal guest worker programs alone could not provide enough labor to meet farmers’ needs.
Now the move goes to the desk of Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who campaigned last year for a promise to enforce Arizona-style law in a state that is estimated to be home to 480,000 illegal immigrants – about 20,000 more than in 2009 in Arizona.
However, since his election, Deal has warned that immigration laws should not be “unduly burdensome” on employers and has voiced concerns with opponents of illegal immigration that he wobbled.
A deal spokesman declined to comment on the governor’s plans for the bill late Thursday.
Whether or not it was enacted, Georgian legislation underscores the increasingly different strategies that states are pursuing rather than a comprehensive federal plan to combat illegal immigration.
On Monday, the U.S. 9th Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s order to overthrow portions of the controversial Arizona law known as SB 1070, signed by Governor Jan Brewer last year. Sections that were rejected included a provision requiring the police to verify the immigration status of anyone they lawfully stop and who they also suspect are illegal immigrants.
Some states, including Florida, are considering major immigration laws; others, including Nebraska and Colorado, have recently rejected such laws. Utah passed immigration control law last month, but mitigated its impact by also passing a law that issues “guest worker” IDs for undocumented immigrants.
And just this week, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill granting illegal immigrants (like California) state tuition fees. Maryland’s governor should sign it. Georgia is one of several states that deny illegal immigrants state tuition fees.
In a provision closely similar to the most controversial part of Arizona law, the Georgia bill gives the police the power to review the immigration status of a suspect when the suspect cannot produce valid ID and the officer has reason to believe the suspect committed an “offense”. If the person is verified as an illegal immigrant, the police can arrest that person or notify federal authorities.
Charles Kuck, a well-known Atlanta immigration attorney, said the way the bill is being written that “crimes” could be as minor as traffic violations.
Kuck, a Republican and outspoken critic of the legislation, said there were some questions as to whether this provision gave the police more power than they already had. But the bigger problem, he said, was with “the message it sends – this bill says,” Immigrants, don’t come to Georgia … you’ll have to show us your papers when you come. “”
He scoffed at another section that forbade police from considering “race, color or national origin” when enforcing the bill.
“Let me ask you a question,” said Kuck. “Do you think white people will be called to an immigration background check if they forget their wallet at home?”
Among other things, the bill prohibits the use of counterfeit IDs to secure employment and the transportation or housing of illegal immigrants while another crime is knowingly being committed.
The biggest sticking point turned out to be stipulating that all but the smallest businesses use the federal system called E-Verify to verify the immigration status of new hires.
Farm lobby critics said E-Verify was not entirely accurate and put employers at risk if they falsely denied a legal resident a job. Proponents of the law described this as exaggerated rhetoric of an industry dependent on cheap labor.
A previous Arizona law passed in 2007 requires all employers to use E-Verify and dissolves companies that repeatedly hire illegal immigrants. This law was also challenged on the grounds that it usurped the federal authority. The US Supreme Court held an oral hearing in December.
If Georgia’s bill becomes law, it will likely go to court. But Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, said his fate may depend on whether Arizona’s laws pass the constitutional draft.
But for now, Georgia law fans were encouraged by her performance on Thursday.
“We’re a law abiding state,” said Senator Earl “Buddy” Carter, a Republican from Pooler. “And we want people to obey the law.”