Georgia state lawmakers are looking west to Arizona for ideas as they seek to crackdown on illegal immigration here.
Meeting at the state Capitol on Thursday for the first time, a Republican-controlled legislative committee discussed Arizona’s tough new laws aimed at the thorny problem. The panel — which is seeking to draft a comprehensive immigration bill before the next state legislative session starts in January – also received a report comparing Georgia and Arizona’s laws on the issue.
“I am not sure we will adopt Arizona’s law, but we will come up with our own,” said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, co-chairman of the Joint House and Senate Study Committee on Immigration Reform. “It would probably be something similar, but I am not exactly sure how it would mirror theirs exactly. But I’m sure that some of the same language would be in there.”
In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law the nation’s toughest legislation against illegal immigration. But in July, a federal judge blocked the part of that law that requires police to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. That section of the law also requires immigrants to prove they are authorized to be in Arizona or risk state charges. The judge issued the injunction after the Obama administration challenged the law. Georgia has no such laws on its books.
Critics say the Arizona statute is unconstitutional and can lead to racial profiling. Supporter say the measure is needed because the federal government is not adequately enforcing immigration laws.
Meanwhile, Murphy and other members of his committee say they will weigh a number of other issues this year, including whether illegal immigrants should be banned from all of Georgia’s colleges. They also intend to look at the effects of birthright citizenship in Georgia. Children born in this country are automatically given U.S. citizenship by the 14th Amendment, even if their parents are here illegally.
“Given everything that has gone on since we were last in session I suspect there will be a lot of different (immigration-related) bills that are put forth by a lot of different members,” said Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, the other committee co-chairman.
Georgia legislators have started their deliberations amid a fierce gubernatorial race that has repeatedly touched on illegal immigration here. Both Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Nathan Deal have said they would support an Arizona-style law in Georgia. And a recent poll commissioned by the AJC and the Georgia Newspaper Partnership said most state voters would also support enacting such a law here.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, both Republicans, appointed the immigration committee in September, complaining the federal government has failed to tackle illegal immigration.
Critics observed that all of the panel’s members are Republican. And they said the timing of the committee’s first meeting – less than a week before the gubernatorial election – is no coincidence.
“It points to this being a political gimmickry, smoke-and-mirrors,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “Georgia’s economy depends on the labor of immigrants. Georgia is not Arizona. And we can’t afford to lose half of our agricultural output.”
Ramsey and Murphy have said they intend to have a “thorough and inclusive process and consider viewpoints from all along the ideological spectrum.”
Also this week, state Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, confirmed he will be filing legislation that would block illegal immigrants from enrolling in Georgia’s public colleges. The Georgia Board of Regents voted this month to prohibit illegal immigrants from attending any college that has rejected academically qualified applicants for the past two academic years because of space or other issues. Rice said illegal immigrants should be blocked from all Georgia colleges.
“I think the regents made a good first step,” Rice said. “I think it would be judicious to go one step further and just clear this up.”