Georgia lawmakers representing Douglas County are split, generally along party lines, on their opinions about House Bill 87, a state immigration reform bill.
A Georgia House Judicial Non-Civil Committee Friday heard from about 30 people in the final day of public testimony on the legislation which would crack down on illegal immigration. The testimony reflected a wide variety of viewpoints on the bill proposed by Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Peachtree City Republican.
Ramsey said Friday his bill is a “work in progress” and would likely be changed before the committee votes on it.
House and Senate members with Douglas County constituents also had similar varying views on the immigration measure.
The two Democratic House members voiced opposition.
“I don’t think it was good for Arizona, and it’s definitely not good for Georgia,” Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) said Friday. “We need to live up to our creed as a melting pot. It’s true immigrants need to go through a process, but we need to do things to bring people together, not separate them.”
Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) said, “I’m opposed to House Bill 87 because immigration is a federal issue. The state of Georgia, or any other state, has no business trying to regulate immigration. We have more important issues to deal with at a state level.”
However, on the other side of the aisle, Douglas County Republican House members had kinder words for immigration reform.
Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica) said he is a co-sponsor of House Bill 87 and has supported similar immigration legislation in the past.
“There’s work still being done on this bill, and I want to see the newest version when it comes out,” Bearden said Friday afternoon. “Rep. Ramsey and the immigration committee have put a lot of hard work into the legislation.”
Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston) also voiced his support of the bill.
“I do support the general idea of the bill,” Hembree said. “It has changed a few times. I think e-verifying the status of immigrants is a good idea and for law enforcement to determine if people are here illegally.”
The State Senate is considering similar legislation and the two state senators representing Douglas County commented Friday on the measures.
Sen. Bill Hamrick (D-Carrollton) called illegal immigration a “rampant problem in Georgia and throughout the U.S. and a “hot button issue” that draws impassioned arguments from both sides.
“I believe we’ll pass a bill addressing illegal immigration this session,” Hamrick said. “It’s our job as lawmakers to develop policy that serves the best interest of Georgia citizens. In past years, we’ve been active in stepping up where federal law fails to address immigration issues. Any legislation that tackles illegal immigration in Georgia and complies with existing federal and state law, would be worth considering.”
When asked about immigration legislation Friday, Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) didn’t take a strong position, one way or the other.
James said some law is needed, and said while it is a federal issue, she feels Congress has ignored it and has not made any decisions.
“It has become a problem in some states, but I don’t see it as a problem in Georgia,” she said. “We do need an immigration law, but it needs to be fair and just to all. Our country was built on immigration and other people, especially those oppressed, have always wanted to come here. We need a law that will protect the immigrants as well as the country.”
James said she does not want to see laws that would cause businesses to have to pay huge fines and said the law needs to find a way to help immigrants who have been here illegally 20 to 30 years and contributing to our tax base.
“We’ve had no hearings on it (immigration) yet and I’ve not heard a lot from my constituents about it.”