Georgia Passes Immigration Law

April 17, 2011 Updated: April 17, 2011

ATLANTA—The Georgia Legislature passed an immigration bill on April 14, which resembles the Arizona immigration bill, which was challenged by the federal government as unconstitutional. Georgia’s House Bill 87 has key differences from the Arizona law.

The differences are meant to allow the bill to survive a constitutional challenge. The original Arizona law spawned lawsuits and boycotts, largely because it required law enforcement personnel to verify the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. That earned it the nickname “Papers, Please.”

The Georgia law only authorizes police to check immigration status, rather than requiring them to do so. It also specifies that the officer must suspect the person of a serious crime. Verifying immigration status would not be allowed over a broken taillight, for example.

The ACLU called Georgia’s bill, formally named Georgia Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, a copycat of Arizona’s SB 1070. The organization plans to sue.

“This law threatens the safety and security of all Georgians by diverting already limited resources away from law enforcement’s primary responsibility to provide protection and promote public safety in the community,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia National Security/Immigrants’ Rights project director, in a statement the day the law was passed. “This ill-conceived law sends a clear message to communities that the authorities are not to be trusted, making them less likely to come forward as survivors of or witnesses to crime.”

Immigrant groups, students, and civil rights groups have held multiple demonstrations at the Georgia Capitol building in Atlanta to protest the legislation.

A federal court did block key parts of the Arizona bill. Utah passed its own immigration law this year, which is quite different from the Arizona and Georgia bills. It creates a temporary guest worker status for illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding.

The new law, not yet signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, also focuses on requiring employers to verify the status of workers. Georgia is an agricultural state and growers have objected to the verification requirements and employer penalties in the new law. It is common in Georgia and elsewhere for laborers in agriculture to be undocumented immigrants from Mexico.