Despite passing what was considered to be one of the toughest immigration laws in the country just five years ago, the Georgia General Assembly just can’t seem to resist the urge to show just how tough it is on immigration. Following last year’s Republican primary, which saw several candidates call for a “tough” anti-immigration law “like Arizona’s,” and one candidate even recommending setting up a “Guantanamo-style” prison for illegal aliens in the state, it was only a matter of time before the General Assembly this year took up such legislation.
Currently, there are two competing immigration bills vying for attention under the Gold Dome.
State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) is sponsoring HB 87 – the “Illegal Immigration Reform Act” — which would require all employers in the state to ensure the status of prospective employees by using the federal E-Verify system; a program opponents of the bill have argued is plagued by questionable accuracy. HB 87 also requires counties and municipalities to ensure that new businesses entering into their jurisdiction are authorized to use E-Verify before a business license or occupational certificate can be issued.
The bill also imposes escalating civil penalties and prison sentences for transporting, concealing or harboring illegal immigrants; and even proposes to make it a crime for someone to “encourage” an illegal immigrant to come to Georgia. Any vehicle used to give an illegal alien a ride would be subject to forfeiture. Importantly, and similar to Arizona’s 2010 law (which already has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court), HB 87 empowers police to detain someone if they suspect the person may be in the country unlawfully.
If enacted, it is certain this legislation will face constitutional challenge in the courts. In fact, recognizing the likelihood that some of the provisions now in his legislation would likely fall as a result of such challenges, Ramsey already has made numerous changes to his bill.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) has introduced SB 40, a slightly less comprehensive bill that still requires businesses in Georgia to be E-Verify compliant. However, reflecting the reality that much of the tough-on-illegal-immigration debate is more about politics than principle, Murphy’s bill carves out a huge exemption for the state’s agricultural community; an obvious attempt to appease the Georgia Farm Bureau, which announced its opposition to bills that would place a financial burden on farmers dependent on migrant workers.
Politics aside, it is interesting to witness so many Republican legislators who profess allegiance to principles of federalism and more limited government police power, tripping over themselves to support legislation such as these immigration-based bills. Greatly expanding the power of law state and local law enforcement to stop and detain people, premised on a power that resides with the federal, not state government to begin with, hardly fits traditional definitions of “conservative.” When it comes to immigration, consistency is often not a component of the debate.
Apparently the cost to taxpayers of measures such as HB 47 figures little in the debate as well. Similar legislation introduced in Utah, for example, is estimated to cost taxpayers in that state upwards of $11 million dollars.
With the Peach State facing a $1 billion-plus budget gap, pushing for an immigration law with a hefty price tag attached to it, and the constitutionality of which is demonstrably in doubt to begin with, would appear not to be a particularly wise use of our legislators’ time. Perhaps they need to be reminded that immigration is a federal responsibility, and that the new folks in charge of the US House just might be more receptive to forcing Uncle Sam to do his job than the prior management. Then again, that would be effort less likely to result in headlines back home.
- by Bob Barr, The Barr Code