Immigration Reform - Georgia Style

What Georgians want in the way of ‘reform’ is to simply uphold existing laws – ensure employees are working legally, validate citizenship before taxpayer subsidies are handed out (including education), prosecute those that bring illegal aliens into Georgia, take unlicensed drivers off the road and keep non-citizens from voting. You will find all of this, and more, in HB 87. Forget sitting around with a big “help me” sign waiting for the Federal government. Georgia may not be able to enforce the border, but we sure as heck can police our own state.

And Georgia has reason to act. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, Georgia’s estimated 425,000 illegal immigrants gives it the seventh-largest illegal population in the country.

A majority of states are now in the hands of Republicans and as many as 24 are moving in the Arizona direction – Alabama just became the first to pass its own version. “The way we’re going to get the federal government involved is for the states to come up with legislation on their own,” Georgia State Senator Jack Murphy explains. Legal residents are demanding action, and many of the new legislators are happy to comply.

But there is a key difference in Georgia’s version and what was passed in Arizona…

Two Little Words

According to legislators I have spoken with, an important difference between the Georgia law and what Arizona did is the substitution of “Probable Cause” for “Reasonable Suspicion”. This will make all the difference in the court battles over racial profiling. The Georgia bill states that “…during any investigation of a criminal suspect by a peace officer, when such officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a criminal offense, including any traffic offense, the officer shall be authorized to seek to verify such suspect’s immigration status…”

I frankly don’t understand how those opposed to Georgia’s type of immigration reform have succeeded for as long as they have. What are the arguments? That it will hurt business because they will have to pay a fair (legal) wage? I am sure the abolition of slavery hurt business also, but you can’t look the other way just because you can save a little money. That it will split up families? If some family members want to stay in the US instead of going with those deported that is their choice. That the fiscal impact of driving thousands of illegals from Georgia has not been considered? I think it has been considered – it will save the state an estimated $2.4 Billion annually.

But in spite of the incredible logic and overwhelming support, lawmakers are still skittish.

HB 87 was softened on the way to its present form in two key areas. First, the original version actually encouraged citizens to sue any local government that was not obeying the law, whereas in the current version all they can do is file a complaint. But the most significant change was subtle and spotted by the keen eye of D.A. King with the Dustin Inman Society (www.thedustininmansociety.org). The bill originally required ALL companies with five or more employees to use E-Verify. This was intentionally changed to read “Every private employer required to obtain a professional or business license…”

Surprise – not every business in Georgia is required to obtain a business license. This works out conveniently for the Legislature because farmers are one group that is not required to be licensed. This allows for the agriculture exemption most farmers want without having to make it look like they received a special exemption.

Here are some more specifics from the latest version of HB 87:

  • Allows a registered voter to submit complaints to the State’s Attorney General if local governments are not following the new law. The State can then remove them from the list of qualified local governments and, if they don’t comply, withhold funds and issue fines against the public agency or even individual employees.
  • Provides hefty fines for stealing an identity or for transporting or harboring illegal aliens.
  • Requires law enforcement to determine the immigration status of any person in custody charged with a felony
  • Keeps employers from deducting any payments to workers over $600 unless that worker is here legally. This applies even to “1099” employees.
  • Validates the status of everyone who receives a public benefit

A Big Step in the Right Direction

So who says we can’t get rid of an estimated 15 million illegal aliens? The US deported about 400,000 in 2010 – and that was without even trying. If just 20 states learned from Arizona and pass a good bill what could that look like? Arizona deported 92,000 aliens in 2010, so once these programs ramp up you would expect we could hit 1.5 million easy from those states alone.

Where the State doesn’t help, the Counties can pick up the slack. In 2010, Gwinnett County, the 64th largest county in the US, sent 2,500 illegals directly to ICE under its 287 (g) program with another 350 transferred to other law enforcement agencies with an ICE Detainer. Pass some strong state laws, throw some more counties like that into the mix, add in illegals who decide the US is not as friendly as it once was, and one could imagine 2 million illegal aliens deported every year.

This bill will probably change even more before it reaches the Governor’s desk, and it will be really interesting to watch this issue over the coming months.

Interesting HB-87 Facts (that I couldn’t fit in the article…)

  • My first read through the bill I was worried about the definition for Illegal Alien: ‘Illegal alien’ means a person who is verified by the federal government to be present in the United States in violation of federal immigration law. It seemed like a chicken and egg thing – you could not treat them as illegal unless they had been proven illegal before you checked their immigration status. But after a careful read I noticed it does not say “a person who has been verified,” and I don’t think the language will cause any problems.
  • Transporting, moving or harboring 7 or fewer illegal aliens is a misdemeanor – 8 or more constitutes a felony.
  • Nobody who reports a crime or helps a prosecuting attorney (as a witness, for instance) will have their immigration status checked if it happens to come out that he is illegal. It specifically doesn’t mention those who help defense attorneys…
  • Currently local law enforcement can’t arrest someone just for being in the US illegally. However this law includes a provision to arrest illegal aliens: “When authorized by federal law, a state or local law enforcement officer shall be authorized to arrest any person based on such person’s status as an illegal alien or for a violation of any federal immigration law.”