The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia’s Senate on Monday approved an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration amid threats of economic boycotts and petitions from thousands of critics who oppose the legislation.
Bob Andres, firstname.lastname@example.org A crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 protesters surrounded the state Capitol on March 24 to voice their opposition to immigration measures the Legislature is considering.
Brant Sanderlin, AJC About 200 demonstrators protested Georgia House Bill 87 outside the Capitol on March 3.
By a vote of 39 to 17, the Senate approved House Bill 87 after nearly three hours of debate and a lengthy and sometimes confusing discussion about several amendments.
Among other things, the Senate eliminated a provision in the bill that would have required many private businesses to use a federal work authorization program called E-Verify. That program helps businesses confirm their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.
The bill now moves one step closer to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature, but the process is far from over. Because the Senate substantially amended the bill, it must now go back to the House, which has been pushing for a tougher crackdown to include the E-Verify requirement for private businesses.
Some lawmakers predicted Monday the House would not agree to the Senate changes and would instead offer its own amendments or seek to appoint a committee to hash out differences between the two chambers.
“We will try to work things out and get things perfected in the conference committee,” Republican Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming, the sponsor of a similar immigration enforcement bill, said through a spokesman after the Senate vote Monday.
Time is running out. Thursday is the deadline for bills to pass this year’s legislative session. And while Deal campaigned last year on curbing illegal immigration in Georgia, he has not yet taken a position on HB 87.
That bill is partly patterned after a tough new law Arizona enacted last year. The Obama administration successfully sued to block key provisions of Arizona’s legislation, arguing those parts are pre-empted by federal law. On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to keep much of that law on hold pending the outcome of the federal lawsuit.
In Georgia, critics warned Monday the Senate should put the brakes on its immigration legislation, given the federal appeals court’s decision.
“There is no reason for us to be forging ahead on this to be simply the second state to go forward and spend millions of dollars litigating this issue,” Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said during an impromptu news conference before the Senate vote. “It doesn’t produce jobs unless it is jobs for lawyers. … The bottom line here is we need to let this process work its way through the courts.”
Like Arizona’s law, Georgia’s bill would empower police to question certain suspects about their immigration status. HB 87 also would penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or use fake identification to get a job here.
Georgia lawmakers argue such a crackdown is necessary because illegal immigrants are burdening public schools, jails and hospitals here. Proponents frequently point to a recent Pew Hispanic Center estimate that says Georgia is home to more illegal immigrants than Arizona at 425,000.
Georgia, meanwhile, is among 30 states that have considered omnibus legislation targeting illegal immigration this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In all, 52 such bills have been introduced nationwide. About three-quarters of them resemble Arizona’s SB 1070. So far, 14 of these bills have failed. And two have passed, both in Utah.
At the same time, critics say Georgia’s HB 87 and one similar to it — Senate Bill 40 — are unconstitutional and would promote racial profiling and damage the state’s economy, which relies heavily on migrant labor. Thousands of demonstrators protested Georgia’s legislation during a rally outside the state Capitol last month. Last week, the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network sent a letter to the governor’s office, saying Georgia will face economic boycotts like Arizona has if it enacts the legislation.
“The boycott is being organized because the state’s pending Arizona-style racial profiling legislation would undermine fundamental civil rights and civil liberties and pose a special threat to immigrants and people of color who live in and travel through the state of Georgia,” Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in the letter.
On Monday, immigrant rights activists said they presented Deal’s office with 23,000 petition signatures urging him to stop the legislation. A spokesman for Deal said Monday the governor will begin reviewing bills after the session ends this week.