Georgia State Legislature Passes SB 1070-inspired Immigration Bill

On Friday, Georgia state lawmakers passed House Bill 87, one of the harshest enforcement-based immigration policies in the country. Passed just before their legislative session ended, HB 87 is styled after Arizona’s SB 1070, and comes as Republican-controlled state governments across the country are adopting enforcement-only policies, including Indiana, Utah and others.

Though the bill takes cues from Arizona’s controversial measure, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has acknowledged that the goal in passing HB 87 is to enact state immigration policy while avoiding legal challenges from the federal government. To that end, HB 87 does not require immigrants to carry documents, but it does allow state and local police to use criminal investigations as a pretext to question suspects about their immigration status. Like SB 1070, critics argue that HB 87 “insists on demonizing people with brown skin and Spanish accents,” as Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock stated. She pointed out that enforcement-only policies that target undocumented immigrants make racial profiling acceptable and presume the guilt of Latino populations.

The bill also makes it illegal to knowingly transport undocumented immigrants and requires business with more than 10 employees to use a federal immigration database called E-Verify to check immigration status and minimize document fraud. Yet, it places the legal burden on document fraud entirely on workers, allowing for sentences of up to 15 years and fines of up to $250,000 for workers who forge documents. One could argue that such penalties verge on cruel and unusual. Georgia’s economy, particularly the agriculture sector, relies on undocumented labor. The bill’s E-Verify provision was a compromise, business lobbies would have preferred that verification be voluntary, precisely because so many of them rely on the substandard wages they can get pay undocumented workers who have little legal protection from underpayment.

Governor Deal has indicated that he intends to sign the bill. If he does not sign or veto it within 40 days, it will become law. HB 87 is the most recent move in the battle between states and the federal government over immigration. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a judge’s injunction blocking the most controversial parts of SB 1070, on the grounds that individual states cannot enact laws that punish violations of federal law. Yet, states continue to introduce and pass legislation similar to SB 1070, and the Department of Homeland Security continues to encourage states to act on their own by using the E-Verify database. The debate over immigration is not just about immigration, it is about labor, education, law enforcement, distribution of resources and fundamental understandings about what it means to be “American.” The way the debate plays out will necessarily impact the future of the United States. Organizers and immigrant groups around the country are protesting the passage of anti-immigration legislation. In Georgia, U.S. Representative John Lewis urged that protesters remain unafraid in the face of injustice, adding that he was arrested 40 times during the Civil Rights Movement.

HB 87, SB 1070 and other similar bills underscore the importance of a more robust dialogue on the politics of migration. Deep Dish TV’s interactive Uprooted series will critically analyze the current U.S. immigration debate from perspectives outside of the corportate media. The project will put forth a grassroots perspective that corporate media outlets rarely present. It will feature submissions from artists, activists, and videographers around the globe, who present their own visions of the politics of migration in a variety of contexts.

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