In Their Own Words: Copy Cat Immigration Laws – The Situation in Georgia

HarvardCRCL.org continues to feature editorial posts written by one of CR-CL’s new General Board members. Today’s post discusses Georgia’s immigration law modeled on Arizona’s controversial statute.

This year in May, Georgia passed “one of nation’s the toughest immigration measures.” It is one of the many copycat laws modeled after Arizona’s severe immigration legislation. The law requires most businesses to check the immigration status of new employees, punishes these businesses if they hire illegal immigrants and allows police officers to question certain suspects of their immigration status.

A month after its passage, a federal judge blocked provisions of the law that required police officers to check the immigration status of suspects without an identification card and that punished people who knowingly harbor or transport illegal immigrants. The judge found that the law reflected a misinterpretation of federal law and could violate civil rights. The state has appealed.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council openly opposed the law. The Council’s President said that the law frightened the state’s Hispanic population away from thousands of farm jobs. Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry.

To other Georgia businesses, the law has proven confusing as they prepare for a provision of the law that will require checking newly hired employees’ immigration status via E-Verify. These businesses are misinformed about the law and must also deal with certain ambiguities. For instance: many don’t realize that not all businesses will have to comply by the new year—those with between 10 and 99 employees won’t have to being using the E-Verify system until 2013. And some companies don’t know which employees must be submitted to the system or which employees should be counted to determine whether they must use it.

Immigration inquiry requirements have toppled over from the state’s law-making body to its education system: the University System of Georgia recently adopted a policy requiring students to prove that they are legally in the country before enrolling in any public university within the state. On the state’s largest college campus, a fifteen-year-old protester declared his illegal status and proclaimed, “I want the education after high school because I don’t want to end up a deadbeat.” A study by the Georgia Board of Regents found that less than one percent of the state’s public university students were illegal immigrants.

Some professors have reacted against the policy by setting up a makeshift school for students who can no longer attend college because of the policy. The program offers college-level courses (but for no credit, of course), and is completely free for students. School supplies are funded by donations.

So despite Georgia’s seemingly popular sentiment favoring drastic immigration reform not only by the Georgia Legislature but also by its university system, many Georgians are vocally opposing this reform and actively seeking alternative ways to meet the needs of their more vulnerable neighbors.

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The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL) is the nation’s leading progressive law journal. Founded in 1966 as an instrument to advance personal freedoms and human dignities, CR-CL seeks to catalyze progressive thought and dialogue through publishing innovative legal scholarship and from various perspectives and in diverse fields of study.

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