Politics

New Georgia Immigration Enforcement Measure ‘Worst’ Yet, Advocates Say

The current version of the bill would require local police, prosecutors and courts to report to federal immigration officials if they find out that a suspect is in the country illegally.
The current version of the bill would require local police, prosecutors and courts to report to federal immigration officials if they find out that a suspect is in the country illegally.
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The Georgia House is scheduled to vote on a bill Thursday that would require local police, prosecutors and courts to help with federal immigration enforcement.

The current version of the bill, which was amended Tuesday evening, would require local law enforcement, prosecutors and courts to report to federal immigration officials if they find that a suspect is in the country illegally. It also includes language regarding bail that advocates say would undercut bail reform efforts in cities like Atlanta.

State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, the House majority whip, introduced the substitute in a House Rules committee Tuesday.

“That’s a real cleanup from what we’ve got, believe it or not,” said state Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, who chairs the House Rules committee.

Immigrant-rights activists say the current version of the bill goes further than what the Senate passed last month. A House panel last week approved a watered-down version of the bill that got rid of the requirement for law enforcement officers, but that version has since been replaced.

“I definitely consider this the worst one we’ve had to encounter so far,” said Maria Palacios, a policy analyst with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

The bill requires local law enforcement to tell prosecutors when they find that a suspect is in the country illegally. It also requires prosecutors to determine someone’s immigration status before sentencing and notify federal immigration authorities if they find someone is in the country illegally. Under the proposal, courts must also “inquire” about a person’s legal status during probation sentencing hearings.

Several judges have spoken out against a previous version of the bill, saying the requirements for local courts to determine someone’s immigration status would be unconstitutional. Immigration courts, unlike other courts, are under the executive branch of government, and immigration law is complex and beyond their expertise, they say.

Palacios and other opponents say these requirements hurt trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement and cause people not to report crimes because of the fear of deportation.

“It definitely causes a lot of anxiety and unneeded fear,” said Palacios. “When you’re going to work, when you’re going to school, when you’re doing whatever church activity, anything, it’s not something you forget about.”

Supporters of the measure say the bill is necessary to maintain the rule of law in Georgia and keep communities safe from criminals.