Georgia Still on My Mind
During the hearing on Georgia’s HB 87, a replication of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, Judge Thomas Thrash posed a hypothetical scenario: an 18-year-old man is driving his mother to church. He is a citizen, while his mother is not. Under HB 87, would the son be a criminal? The question is not a theoretical matter for thousands of families in Georgia, and millions nationwide. It is reality.
After Judge Thrash issued a preliminary injunction blocking portions of Georgia’s HB 87 yesterday, many are wondering what it means and what comes next. The injunction, which stops sections of Georgia’s racist anti-immigration law, forestalls the further criminalization of immigrant families on one hand while advancing it with the parts that went unblocked on the other.
Beyond the injunction, there is an emerging domestic human rights crisis caused by the country’s unjust immigration laws. The politics of exclusion behind the bill have led to dehumanizing policies, but immigrants in Georgia are organizing to defend themselves with potential benefits for us all. To move forward, we must expand our circle of compassion.
While the legal battles in Arizona, Indiana, Utah, and now Georgia have been heroic and have mitigated the harm of these states’ hate bills, the fact that the emergency court rulings only offer us partial protections is a warning of clear and present danger for people of color. Our rights are being eroded, and our lives have worsened as a result of the poisonous normalization of these repugnant proposals.
In Georgia, just like in Arizona, parts of the anti-immigrant proposals have survived judicial scrutiny, with impacts yet unknown. These Arizona-style bills may be acting as trojan horses. Behind the clearly unconstitutional components set to be struck down are new laws that advance the targeting of immigrants and further imperil civil rights in ways that threaten us all.
With such seething racial animus behind nativist laws and a sophisticated media engine driving anti-immigrant hysteria, it is natural to view the temporary defeat of 1070 copycats as partial victories. When a community is so suffocated by hate and so thoroughly under siege, any respite will feel like an advance.
In Georgia, some referred to the partial injunction of HB 87 as “a breath of fresh air.” Yet the unenjoined sections of the bill set to move forward July 1 and onward are anticipated to be devastating. In a similar moment in Arizona last year, we recalled the words of Malcolm X, “You don’t stab me with a six-inch knife, pull it out three inches, and call that progress.” While some egregious sections of HB 87 were stopped, those moving forward include penalties of up to 15 years prison and $250,000 in fines for use of false work papers, mandatory worksite inspections, desktop raids, among other things. Twenty-one of 23 sections will be implemented. True progress than will be found through the organizing in the neighborhoods by and among those affected.
Perhaps some citizens can temporarily breathe easier knowing they are less likely to be targeted than their undocumented neighbors. However, for hardworking people who have no entry point into the workforce, doing what they must to earn their daily bread may now be treated as a more heinous crime than those charged with actual violence. Next month for example, Jose Antonio Vargas, the reporter who recently came out as undocumented would face the possibility of 15 years in prison for his Pulitzer prize-winning work if done in Georgia.
The 18-year-old in the Judge’s hypothetical may be temporarily taken out of the crosshairs in one sense, but he is not likely to catch his breath. Like the rest of his family, he is still under attack.
As Adelina Nicholls of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) explained, “our communities still face discrimination from police empowered by the Obama administration.” The federal government has already created programs that act as a conduit for prejudiced policing in places like Gwinnett and Cobb counties. There, like other places where Secure Communities has recently been activated, the likelihood of status checks, pretextual arrests, and rights violations remain unabated, with or without HB 87.
The battle in Georgia has served to crystallize the contradiction we all live with, in a country that accepts our labor but denies our humanity. We are moving forward, but because of fending off parts of the most recent attack. HB 87 is a symptom of a far bigger disease that has infected our politics and resulted in policies of dehumanization. We are moving forward; the passage of HB 87 has become the impetus for new bottom-up organizing. In doing so, we expand our circle of compassion to include all, especially our undocumented brothers and sisters.
Expanding our circle of compassion means accepting this hard truth: there is no partial solution to a human rights crisis. We cannot celebrate the defense of civil rights for some at the expense of the human rights for all. Progress requires listening to, learning from, and accepting the voices of this generation’s immigrant families. In Georgia, Arizona, and elsewhere, excluded immigrants, or ‘Americans in Waiting,’ are laboring for inclusion. When they prevail, and they will prevail, we will all win.