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Georgia Passes New Law Geared at Catching Undocumented Criminals

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

Many people think of southern states like Georgia as largely white, but the Peach State is actually one of the more diverse states in the country. Its workforce is partly driven by immigration. Immigrants make up a quarter of the state’s farmers, fishers, and foresters and a quarter of the state’s computer and math science employees.

Despite that, state policy is not always immigrant-friendly. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law House Bill 1105, also known as the Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report 33 Act. It was sponsored by a Republican state representative from Savannah, Jesse Petra.  Most provisions of the new law took effect immediately. Let’s talk about what it means.

What Does the New Law Do?

The new law requires Georgia sheriffs to coordinate with federal immigration agents when they suspect that someone in custody is illegally in the country. The law punishes sheriffs who don’t notify the feds when they identify someone that they suspect may be undocumented. Jailers are required to hold any such suspect as well.

The new law is aimed at those in the jail or prison pipeline. Specifically, anyone who is either already in jail or prison or anyone who is getting arrested and taken into custody could be affected by the new law if they are undocumented or if authorities suspect they are undocumented or otherwise “wanted” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Keep in mind that federal authorities, not the Georgia state government, are responsible for deportation procedures. Georgia prisons cannot deport anyone by themselves.

Political Context of the Law

The bill gained traction in the wake of the killing of Laken Riley, a nursing student at the University of Georgia who was found dead near campus after going for a run. Police arrested as a suspect a Venezuelan man who they said was undocumented. As Governor Kemp signed the bill into law, he commented: “If you enter our country illegally and proceed to commit further crimes in our communities, we will not allow your crimes to go unanswered.”

Some critics claim that Republicans are using the new law to stop “sanctuary” policies. Sanctuary policies limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation based solely on their immigration status. While Georgia law already prohibited such policies, this could be seen as an added measure to stop any local authorities from turning a blind eye to undocumented people in custody by actively punishing them for it.

Criticism

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, whose mission is “to advance lasting solutions that expand economic opportunity and well-being for all Georgians,” released a public statement that they were “deeply disappointed” by the bill’s passage. GBPI said the new law is “likely to perpetuate the separation of immigrant families and expand the state’s system of carceral control and caging of people of color.” And GBPI didn’t just state moral objections; more practically, it condemned the new law as financially irresponsible. It called out the fact that HB 1105 is a state mandate without any supportive funding. It pointed to data from its published policy report that shows that such a policy is not only expensive but “strips scarce resources from local governments, replacing local discretion with state-level decision making to the detriment of local communities.”

Public Reaction

Last Wednesday morning, chants of “Abolish ICE!” were heard at the Georgia State Capitol as dozens of protestors organized to oppose the new law. Signs like “Decriminalize Migration” and “No racial profiling, veto HB 1105” were held up by protestors. Among them were members of various local and national interest groups, like Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), the Atlanta-based Project South, Friends of The Congo, and Women Watch Africa.

Also among those taking a stand against the new law was Jennifer Lopez, who is a representative with GLAHR. She recalled being at the Georgia capital in her twenties, similarly protesting anti-immigration legislation with her parents. She commented: “The immigrant community has been the target for anti-immigration legislation for years. We have been in this fight before and here we are again. Not one more day, hour, or second will we spend being scapegoats.”

The law is already in effect, however, and pending future legal challenges will remain so. For now, anyone in prison or jail in Georgia could potentially be referred to ICE.

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