Just when it looked like Georgia was beginning to get a handle on the damage caused by HB 87, the state’s Arizona-inspired immigration law, some lawmakers are once again trying to push through new measures that will further marginalize immigrants and exclude them from our community would.
SB 458 contains two provisions of particular concern. It would ban undocumented students from all public universities and colleges in Georgia, even though they pay out-of-state tuition. With much at stake, many of these model youth will either be expelled from the state to go to school elsewhere, or give up their dreams altogether.
The second provision, buried in the bill, may seem technical, but it is actually quite insidious and comprehensive. Lawmakers now want to prohibit state and local governments from accepting many foreign passports as proof of identity. Indeed, both immigrants and foreign tourists could fail to prove their identities in a wide range of interactions, deny them access to certain government buildings, take away such essential services as water and sewage, and even thwart their ability to marry — a basic requirement of constitutional law. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked provisions with similar effect in Alabama earlier this month.
Why are legislators toying with foreign passports? HB 87 required Attorney General Sam Olens to release a list of “safe and verifiable documents” and banned the acceptance of all other identification documents by state and local governments. Olens was barely upset when he added foreign passports to his list. Finally, passports are accepted by the Federal Transportation Security Administration for air travel where security is synonymous. Apparently, some Georgia lawmakers think they know better by removing foreign passports from the Attorney General’s list of “safe and verifiable documents” unless the passport is accompanied by “a valid United States Homeland Security Form I-94 or I-94A or other federal document stating an alien’s lawful immigrant status.”
This seemingly technical change would not only affect undocumented immigrants. Foreign visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program do not have the forms required by law. What do the politicians who support this law have against British, Swedish and Japanese tourists? Does Georgia really want to discourage foreign tourism from 36 of the world’s richest countries by sending a message to travelers that they better watch out because their passports won’t work as ID in Georgia?
Some reforms in SB 458 usefully relieve unnecessary burdens that HB 87 imposes on residents and state agencies. However, the student ban and foreign passport regulations are pushing Georgia in completely the opposite direction, leading to new controversies, litigation and reputational damage.
The disastrous impact of HB 87 on Georgia’s economy and reputation was felt by many across the state. Georgian lawmakers and Governor Nathan Deal should firmly oppose any further attempts to make Georgia an unwelcome state for immigrants.
(Originally published in the Fulton County Daily Report.)
Learn more about anti-immigration laws: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.