The latest anti-immigration law will do more damage to Georgia

Just when it seemed Georgia was beginning to see the damage done by HB 87, the state’s Arizona-inspired anti-immigrant law, some lawmakers are once again trying to rush 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 if they pay out-of-state tuition. The stakes are high, as many of these exemplary youth will either be forced to leave the state to pursue an education elsewhere, or give up their dreams altogether.

The second provision contained in the draft law appears to be technical in nature, but is in fact quite insidious and far-reaching. Legislation now wants to prohibit state and local governments from accepting many foreign passports as proof of identity. In fact, both immigrants and foreign tourists would be unable to prove their identities in a wide range of interactions, deny them entry into certain government buildings, take away such vital services as water and sewage, and even deny their ability to marry—a basic requirement thwart constitutional law. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked rulings with similar effect in Alabama earlier this month.

Why are legislators concerned 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. When Olens added foreign passports to his list, he wasn’t over the moon. Finally, passports are accepted by the Federal Transportation Security Administration for air travel where security is a top priority. 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 U.S. Homeland Security Form I-94 or I -94A or other federal document” filed stating an alien’s lawful immigration 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 the bill. What do the politicians supporting this bill 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 the message to travelers that they better watch out because their passports are not valid as ID in Georgia?

Some reforms in SB 458 usefully reduce unnecessary burdens that HB 87 imposes on residents and governmental agencies of the state. 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 has been 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.)

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