SMYRNA — A pro-immigration group warned that a new Georgia law that takes effect today will hurt everyone, not just immigrants, at a community meeting in Smyrna on Thursday.
The Cobb Immigrant Alliance hosted a forum on immigration at Crosspoint Presbyterian Church on King Springs Road. The group — which describes itself as a coalition working to ensure a welcoming environment for all immigrants — invited the public to learn about “myths and facts surrounding immigration and about Georgia’s new law (House Bill) 87.”
About 40 people attended the forum, where a panel of immigration experts and activists said the law will do more harm than any good.
“We deliberately don’t have anybody that’s pro-HB 87 on this panel, as you can tell — I’ll tell you up front — because we don’t see any benefit at all to HB87,” said Rich Pellegrino, director of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance.
The panelists were immigration lawyer Uzo Akpele; Helen Kim Ho, executive director of the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center; the Rev. Lionel Gantt of the Cobb Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Carlos Garcia of the Cobb Immigration Alliance; and Pastor Jim Moon of Crosspoint Presbyterian Church. Pellegrino was the moderator.
Ho, a lawyer and former Cobb Legal Aid worker, said she believes more Georgians would be against the new law if they understood what it does to communities.
“A lot of these laws when you really look down at it — they’re really going to hurt everybody when it comes to jobs, children, education and health,” she said. “We can all connect on these basic issues, but sometimes it’s hard to get through the white noise of the rhetoric that you hear people say.”
In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 87, which cracks down on illegal immigration.
It authorized law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of certain suspects and to detain them if they’re illegally in the country. It also penalized those who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants with up to 12 months in prison and fines of up to $1,000, for first-time offenders.
But on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash temporarily blocked those parts of the new law, after civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit in Atlanta, saying the law violated state and federal laws.
In doing so, Georgia joined Arizona, Utah and Indiana as states that have had all or parts of similar, controversial immigration laws blocked by federal judges.
However, the provisions of the law that still take effect today include punishing individuals who use false information in applying for jobs, and the establishment of a review board to investigate complaints about local and state government officials not enforcing state immigration laws.
Panelist Gantt said the SCLC is committed to fighting the law, which he described as another form of discrimination.
Garcia spoke passionately about the impact of immigration laws already on the books such as 287(g), which is used to check the immigration status of Cobb County Jail inmates. Families have been separated and traffic road blocks have instilled fear in people, he said. He also said ankle monitors have been placed on people, such a woman he knows, who have been found driving without a license.
“She said to me, ‘You know, Carlos, it’s not so bad if they are just going to deport me. The worst thing is being treated like an animal,’” Garcia recalled.
Anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King, Dustin Inman Society president, said regardless of the ruling by Thrash — whom he called a “liberal activist judge” — the key provisions of the bill remain intact, including the enforcement of the use of the federal E-Verify system by businesses starting Jan. 1.
“The law that is becoming effective (July 1) is very, very strong, it’s very comprehensive, it is driving illegal aliens out of Georgia,” King said.