3/9 – AJC – Senate passes bill targeting illegal immigrants with DUIs | ajc.com

Senate passes bill targeting illegal immigrants with DUIs  | ajc.com.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Illegal immigrants convicted of drunken driving in Georgia would face a felony for a first-time offense under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

In recent years, several thousand people have marched through downtown Atlanta in support of immigration reform.

Miguel Martinez/Mundo Hispanico In recent years, several thousand people have marched through downtown Atlanta in support of immigration reform.

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By a 35-18 vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 162. The measure — one of about 10 immigration-related bills now pending in the state Legislature — now moves to the House for consideration.

Illegal immigrants convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could face fines between $1,000 and $5,000 and imprisonment for one to five years. Other first-time offenders face misdemeanors under current state law.

Republican Sen. William Ligon Jr., R-Waverly, said his bill seeks to make the roads safer. Ligon said he served as a municipal court judge for Brunswick for 16 years and noticed several years ago that some people ending up in that court on DUI charges were in the country illegally. One year, he said, 96 of 172 people charged with the offense in Brunswick were illegal immigrants.

“I do see it is the right step for protecting those who are legal citizens and who are trying to abide by the laws,” Ligon told the Senate. “And we are dealing with people who have chosen to disregard the law, first of all, by being in this country illegally and, secondly, by becoming intoxicated and operating their vehicles on the roads.”

Opponents in the Senate questioned whether the legislation targets certain ethnic groups. Ligon denied that, saying the bill applies to anyone who is in the country illegally. Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, said Ligon did not provide statewide crime statistics to help senators decide whether they should vote for the bill.

“You are asking us to make a decision statewide based on an analysis of 172 cases, is that correct?” Jones asked Ligon.

Moments before that vote, critics unsuccessfully sought to table the bill, failing in their attempt by a vote of 34-20.

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