The Georgia state legislature passed an anti-immigration bill last week that follows Arizona’s 2010 crackdown on the undocumented.
House Bill 87 passed the House of Representatives on a 112-to-59 vote. The Georgia Senate bill passed on a 37-to-19 vote.
Supporting the bill was state Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), who is the owner of a Christian publishing house widely used by churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a moderate Baptist organization.
Staton identifies himself as a member of the CBF-related Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman said the governor planned to sign the bill into law.
Deal, a member of the CBF-affiliated First Baptist Church of Gainesville, said during his 2010 gubernatorial race: “I agree with the Arizona governor and legislature that the federal government has failed miserably at protecting our borders and enacting sensible solutions that would protect our states, counties and cities from bearing the enormous costs associated with illegal immigration, from emergency room visits to public schools to the criminal justice system.”
As a U.S. congressman, Deal introduced the “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009.”
That bill would have removed the birthright of U.S. citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants, but allowed it if one parent were a U.S. citizen.
The author of Arizona’s 2010 bill, Senate President Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), pushed for the passage of the Georgia legislation.
“Having seen the positive effects of enforcement here in Arizona, I can assure all concerned that H.B. 87 will serve to greatly reduce the illegal population in Georgia, save budget dollars and protect jobs for American workers in that great state,” said Pearce.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia’s anti-immigration bill would require businesses with more than 10 employees to use E-Verify, a federal program that determines if employees are eligible for employment.
The newspaper reported that the bill would “empower local and state police to arrest illegal immigrants and transport them to state and federal jails.”
It would also “punish people who use fake identification to get a job in Georgia with up to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines” and “establish a seven-member Immigration Enforcement Review Board to investigate complaints about local and state government officials not enforcing state immigration-related laws.”
Representatives of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, citing hardships it would create for businesses.
“We know this bill is not going to create a single job. When has the General Assembly become so anti-economic development?” asked Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.
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The Gainesville Times reported that 270 agriculture business leaders signed a letter opposing the bill.
One signatory, Stu Brown, owner of Bio Lawns, said, “There’s a big problem with immigration, and reform needs to happen, but people also need to understand that the current system doesn’t work and that immigrants are the only people willing to do this work.”
The Georgia Catholic Conference (GCC) voiced early opposition to the anti-immigration legislation, saying House Bill 87 failed to “respect the human dignity and human rights of undocumented immigrants,” criminalized “actions that tend to help undocumented immigrants,” and required “law enforcement officers to verify immigration status of any person when stopped for a criminal violation which would include a traffic violation.”
In an action alert, GCC encouraged its supporters to contact their representatives to urge them “to resist the imposition of harsh and unnecessary legislation.”
The Catholic bishops of Georgia issued a pastoral statement that noted how the “destructive climate” in their state over immigration had “further deteriorated” over the past several years. They called for respecting undocumented immigrants.
Timothy McDonald, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said that targeting undocumented immigrants was “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”
McDonald, an African-American leader, said, “Ultimately, it is about discrimination.”
The southeast office of the Anti-Defamation League called the bill “onerous.”
“It imposes upon local law enforcement agencies the added burden of determining the legal status of those they stop for even minor traffic offenses; and it opens the door for situations in which officers, even those acting in good faith, may use characteristics such as skin color, national origin, foreign accents or language as reasons for questioning legal status,” said ADL’s regional director Bill Nigut.
The ADL urged Deal to veto the legislation.