6:02 p.m. Monday, August 1, 2011
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
State officials moved closer this week toward enforcing a wide-ranging part of Georgia’s new law targeting illegal immigration that will affect anyone seeking public benefits.
On Monday, the state Attorney General’s Office published a two-page list of identification documents that must be used to get benefits and services in Georgia.
The list includes U.S. and foreign passports; U.S. military identification cards; state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards; tribal identification cards; and federally issued permanent resident cards.
Starting Jan. 1, state and local government agencies must start requiring people who apply for benefits — such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and business and gaming licenses — to provide at least one of these “secure and verifiable” documents.
Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Peachtree City Republican who based his law on a similar measure in Colorado, said it is aimed at curbing illegal immigration in Georgia and saving taxpayer dollars. An estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center puts the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia at 425,000, the seventh-highest total among the states. Ramsey and others complain illegal immigrants are burdening taxpayer-funded resources in Georgia.
“Certainly, no reasonable Georgian can support allowing illegal aliens who have escaped capture and inspection at our borders access to our shrinking public benefits or access to our government buildings where sensitive material is kept,” said Inger Eberhart, a board member with the Dustin Inman Society, which advocates enforcement of U.S. immigration and employment laws.
Critics of the law say countless U.S. citizens and noncitizens who are entitled to public benefits in Georgia lack such identifying documents, including low-income people and victims of human trafficking. Officials, under the law, will be prohibited from accepting documents not on the list for “any official purpose.”
Civil and immigrant rights groups are suing in federal court to block this part of the law. They argue it is pre-empted by federal law, which governs the rules for verifying eligibility for federally funded food stamps and certain subsidized housing.
Meanwhile, opponents of the measure complain this is one of several far-reaching provisions in Georgia’s new immigration enforcement law that can apply to U.S. citizens and noncitizens.
Omar Jadwat, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the law attempts to “create a system where everyone has to carry ID on them all the time. And that is really not the way our country works and it is not the way I think most people expect to have to live their lives.”
Under another provision in Georgia’s law, for example, any Georgia adult who uses a fake ID to get a job could go to prison for 15 years and pay a fine of $250,000. The new offense, called aggravated identity fraud, went into effect July 1. It applies to everyone, not just illegal immigrants.
On Monday, the Attorney General’s office intentionally left certain forms of ID off the list of acceptable documents, including consular matriculation cards. Under Georgia’s new law, those and similar ID cards issued by foreign governments will not be accepted regardless of the person’s immigration status. Critics say those documents can be easily forged. Immigrant rights activists argue such cards are accepted internationally.
Government officials who “knowingly” violate this law can face up to 12 months in prison and up to $1,000 in fines. This part of the law, however, does not apply to some groups of people, including those reporting crimes, police investigating crimes and people providing services to infants and children.
Organizations representing Georgia’s city and county governments said Monday they will be training officials in September on how to comply with the law. Among the topics they will cover is recognizing the acceptable forms of ID, including the more uncommon ones.
“We are going to have to train the county staff as to what is on that list and what those documents look like… because they are not going to know a lot of those documents,” said Clint Mueller, the legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. “Just looking at it, there are several things on there I don’t recognize and I wouldn’t know one if I saw it.”