A state House panel approved a bill Tuesday originally intended to require local law enforcement to help with immigration enforcement.
The bill passed out of the full Senate last month, but the House Public Safety and Homeland Security committee took the requirement out for law enforcement, by changing language in the bill from “shall” to “may.”
State Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, vice chairman of the committee said there were concerns in the business community about the original bill’s potential effect on people who were in the country legally, citing international executives who might be driving without their visas.
“This isn’t Nazi Germany where we’re not asking people to carry their papers around on them at all times,” Clark said.
The bill’s current version does require Georgia judges to determine whether or not the people they are sentencing for a felony conviction are in the country legally. If they’re not, the courts would be required to let federal immigration authorities know.
Several Georgia judges testified at Tuesday’s committee hearing, raising concerns about the separation of powers and a judge’s ability to make a decision in an area of law they’re not specialized in.
“You’re talking about a very nuanced and ever-changing area of the law,” said DeKalb County State Judge Mike Jacobs.
DeKalb State Judge Dax Lopez said immigration judges are part of the executive branch, under the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We are trying to maintain our lane, our judiciary lane, and keep our judges outside of the executive,” Lopez said.
Supporters say the bill is necessary to enforce immigration law and for public safety. Opponents have said the bill would send the wrong message to business community and prevent immigrant communities from working reporting crimes to law enforcement.
The bill is now in the House Rules committee, which could move the bill to the full House for a vote.