3/2 – The Weekly Online – House Democrats Show Solidarity, Oppose Immigration Bill

The Weekly Online!

Overreaching HB 87 unfriendly to Georgia’s tourism, agriculture industry

ATLANTA, Ga., (March 2, 2011) – The Georgia House Democratic Caucus voted today to oppose HB 87, an Arizona-style bill meant to crack down on illegal immigration in Georgia, but takes the issue much too far.

HB 87 would allow local police to randomly detain anyone who can not produce documentation of citizenship. Additionally, police could detain and jail suspects who are transporting those thought to be undocumented.

“No one in our caucus is condoning illegal immigration,” said Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Caucus Treasurer. “But this bill does not solve that issue, and it creates new ones. We must be mindful of the side effects of any legislation on business, tourism, and law enforcement. Our state can ill-afford what Arizona has been through.”

On Monday, February 28, HB 87 passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee completely along party lines. It has been added to the House Calendar for Thursday, March 3.

“We cannot support any legislation that would hurt Georgia’s reputation and economic well-being, particularly during such a severe economic downturn,” said Rep. Stacey Abrams, who serves as House Minority Leader. “This bill raises concerns about racial profiling, burdens local law enforcement without providing additional financial support and may yet prove unconstitutional, potentially exposing local governments to costly lawsuits.”

HB 87 also allows individual citizens to bring a lawsuit against a local government or agency if they believe the entity is not complying with the requirement to use E-Verify, an Internet-based system that enables employer to determine an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States.

The bill was also amended to make presenting false documentation or information when applying for a job a felony offense, punishable by one to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.

In Rules Committee, House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on women fleeing domestic violence.

“Women seeking to provide for their families while awaiting a slow federal process to help them secure new identities. These women deserve our protection, not the possibility of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine,” said Hugley.

Prior to adopting a position, the House Democratic Caucus discussed the negative impacts on statewide tourism and efforts to recruit new business to Georgia, particularly international companies.

“Several corporations have publicly condemned Arizona-style immigration laws and vowed to boycott states that enact similar legislation. They have adopted internal policies that state they will not do business in states with legislation like Arizona,” said Rep. Brian Thomas, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We cannot afford to chase businesses away from Georgia, especially with unemployment hovering near ten percent.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Arizona’s SB 1070 has cost the state more than $140 million in cancelled conventions. Georgia’s tourism industry was estimated to be four times the size of Arizona’s before this law was enacted.

HB 87 is authored by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-72) and has undergone several substantive changes since it was originally offered. The original version required law enforcement officers to develop a reasonable suspicion guideline before trying to determine an individual’s immigration status.

The Senate Democrats have held a number of public hearings across the state regarding immigration, and House Democrats share their concerns about the impact of the legislation on the state’s bottom-line and reputation.

The version that passed out of House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee removes the “reasonable suspicion” language and authorizes officers “to seek to verify” a suspect’s immigration status if he or she is unable to provide an accepted form of identification.

This language raises questions about its impact on tourism, Georgia’s second largest industry.

“For 2011, Arizona has lost more than $45 million due to canceled conventions and boycotts. Georgia relies on tourism to feed our families. This bill will not curb illegal immigration, but it will put a black-eye on our state and send jobs elsewhere. This is an anti-economic development bill that will haunt Georgia for years to come,” said Rep. Abrams.


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