The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia’s House followed Arizona’s lead Thursday, convincingly passing stringent new legislation targeting illegal immigrants and those who harbor them here.
Brant Sanderlin, firstname.lastname@example.org The Rev. Gregory Williams, president of Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment, speaks against House Bill 87 outside the Capitol Thursday.
Johnny Crawford, email@example.com Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City watches as the Georgia House votes to pass HB 87 on Thursday, the immigration reform bill he sponsored.
Miguel Martinez/Mundo Hispanico In recent years, several thousand people have marched through downtown Atlanta in support of immigration reform.
By a largely party-line vote of 113-56, the Republican-controlled chamber approved House Bill 87, also called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.
The 22-page bill now moves to the Senate, where a committee endorsed a similar but shorter measure Wednesday. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal campaigned last year on curbing illegal immigration in Georgia, but he has not yet taken a position on the House and Senate bills.
Like the groundbreaking law Arizona enacted last year, HB 87 would authorize state and local police to verify the immigration status of certain suspects. A federal judge halted a similar provision in Arizona last year after the Obama administration argued it is pre-empted by federal law. Arizona is appealing that judge’s decision.
Hundreds of demonstrators — a loose coalition of black and Latino civil rights groups, labor unions and national groups such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union — gathered outside the state Capitol during the House debate Thursday to denounce the measure as an “Arizona copycat law” and call on Deal to veto it if it comes to his desk. They said the measure is irresponsible and would turn Georgia into a “show-me-your-papers state, reminiscent of slavery and Jim Crow times.”
Supporters of HB 87, meanwhile, argued the state must act because the federal government has failed to adequately seal its borders and enforce the nation’s immigration laws. Georgia has the ninth-largest population among states, but it is home to the seventh-largest number of illegal immigrants, estimated at 425,000, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a report released last month. Critics say illegal immigrants are burdening Georgia’s hospitals, jails and public schools and taking jobs here amid high unemployment.
“No doubt about it. Our federal government has failed us, and our citizens in Georgia are suffering the consequences,” Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, the bill’s sponsor, told the House at the start of more than two hours of debate.
Ramsey has said he has worked on more than 16 drafts of the legislation, partly to protect it against potential court challenges. The ACLU called the measure unconstitutional last month and threatened to challenge it in court if it is enacted.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said Thursday that the governor’s office will closely watch the bill, which he said “still has a ways to go” through the legislative process.
About 30 protesters attempted to deliver a poster board letter to Deal that was signed by demonstrators asking the governor to veto the bill. They were stopped by Georgia state troopers at the west entrance to the Capitol. After some negotiation, two members of the group were allowed to hand the letter to a receptionist in the governor’s office. Deal did not meet with the group, and it was unclear whether he was aware they were there.
Asked about the call for Deal to veto the legislation, Robinson said: “We can’t veto something that is not on our desk.”
Democrats vigorously fought HB 87 on the House floor Thursday, arguing it would damage Georgia’s agricultural and tourism industries and force the state to defend itself against costly court challenges. Some called it un-American.
“Do we really believe now is the time to create a gestapo state, where every person who looks or sounds [like] or has the surname of an immigrant must provide papers — as in South Africa — to prove their citizenship or legal residence?” said Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth.
Among other things, HB 87 would punish certain people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants here. It would require many private employers to verify their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States. It would empower people to sue local and state government officials who don’t enforce existing state laws aimed at illegal immigration. And it would penalizes people who “willfully and fraudulently” use fake identification to get a job in Georgia.
Denise Ognio, a tea partyer and accountant who works for a staffing firm in Fayetteville, stressed the need for E-Verify, a free federal program that allows employers to check whether their new hires are eligible to work. She said two older women called the staffing firm to complain about getting W-2 forms showing they owed taxes on jobs they never held. Someone else had used their Social Security numbers when applying for work.
“When we use E-Verify, it takes minutes and it solves problems down the road,” Ognio said. “But now, illegal workers can leave us and go get hired by someone else down the road who doesn’t verify. We are concerned about losing American jobs because illegal immigrants are taking jobs illegally.”
In a statement published in Catholic newspapers this week, the Catholic bishops of Georgia urged state lawmakers to “resist the imposition of harsh and unnecessary legislation affecting all residents of Georgia, further tearing apart the fabric of our communities and jeopardizing our future.”
Meanwhile, the state’s agricultural, landscaping and commercial building industries have urged legislators to move cautiously. Last month, the Mexican ambassador to the United States criticized HB 87, saying it “could lead down a slippery slope of racial profiling,” a charge supporters of the legislation vehemently deny.
Georgia is not alone in its efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. Twenty other states are considering similar Arizona-style legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such bills have passed at least one legislative chamber in Indiana, Kentucky and Utah. At least seven other bills targeting illegal immigration are pending in Georgia’s Legislature.
Supporters of Georgia’s legislation roamed the halls of the Capitol on Thursday. Carol Williams was among them. She drove from her Cumming home to the Capitol to watch the debate and corral lawmakers. She and other tea party activists weren’t content to hear assurances that some members would vote for the bill. They marched some down to the House clerk’s office before the chamber convened, asking them to sign on as co-sponsors.
“It’s a symbol of what the heart of America is feeling about immigration,” said Williams, a homemaker. “We are close to a depression, economically. Americans cannot find work. We cannot afford the costs of illegal immigration.”
Protesters outside the Capitol held up signs and chanted in English and Spanish for Deal to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. The Rev. Gregory Williams, the senior pastor at College Park CME Church, said he was concerned what the bill could do for the image of Georgia as a birthplace of the civil rights movement.
“If this does not get vetoed, we might as well go back to the back of the bus,” Williams said. “The progress of the civil rights movement takes a step back with this legislation.”
Staff writers Chris Joyner and April Hunt contributed to this article.
House Bill 87
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, which the state House of Representatives passed Thursday by a 113-56 vote, calls for:
- Authorizing state and local police to verify the immigration status of certain suspects.
- Punishing certain people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants.
- Requiring many private employers to verify their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.
- Empowering people to sue local and state government officials who don’t enforce existing state laws aimed at illegal immigration.
- Penalizing people who “willfully and fraudulently” use fake identification to get a job in Georgia.