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Newest Anti-Immigrant Law Will Further Damage Georgia

Azadeh N. Shahshahani,
ACLU Foundation of Georgia
Jonathan Blazer,
Director of Border Strategies, ACLU
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March 23, 2012

Just when it seemed that Georgia was coming to grips with the damage caused by H.B. 87, the state's Arizona-inspired anti-immigrant law, some lawmakers are again attempting to rush through new measures that would further marginalize and exclude immigrants from our community.

S.B. 458 includes two especially troubling provisions. One would ban undocumented students from all public universities and colleges in Georgia, even though they are paying out-of-state tuition. The stakes are high in that many of these exemplary youth will either be forced out of the state to pursue schooling elsewhere or abandon their dreams altogether.

The second provision buried in the bill may seem technical in nature, but is actually quite insidious and sweeping. Lawmakers now aim to prohibit state and local governments from accepting many foreign passports as proof of identification. In effect, both immigrants and foreign tourists would be unable to prove their identity in a wide range of interactions, denying them entrance to certain government buildings, taking away services as essential as water and sewage, and even thwarting their ability to marry — a fundamental constitutional right. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked provisions with similar effect in Alabama earlier this month.

Why is the legislature messing with foreign passports? H.B. 87 required Attorney General Sam Olens to publish a list of "secure and verifiable documents" and outlawed the acceptance of any other identity documents by state and local governments. Olens was hardly going out on a limb when he placed foreign passports on his list. After all, passports are accepted by the federal Transportation Security Administration for airplane travel, where security is tantamount. Apparently, some Georgia legislators think they know better by striking foreign passports from the attorney general's list of "secure and verifiable documents" unless the passport is submitted with "a valid United States Homeland Security Form I-94 or I-94A or other federal document specifying an alien's lawful immigration status."

This seemingly technical change would not just affect undocumented immigrants. Foreign visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program do not have the forms required by the bill. What do the politicians supporting this bill have against British, Swedish, and Japanese tourists? Does Georgia really want to discourage foreign tourism from 36 of the world's wealthiest countries by sending a message to travelers that they better watch out because their passports are no good as ID in Georgia?

Some reforms in S.B. 458 sensibly relieve unnecessary burdens H.B. 87 imposes on the state's residents and government agencies. However, the student ban and foreign passport provisions push Georgia in the complete opposite direction, injecting new controversy, litigation and reputational harm.

The disastrous impact of H.B. 87 on Georgia's economy and reputation has been felt by many across the state. Georgia legislators and Gov. Nathan Deal should resoundingly reject any further attempts at making Georgia an unwelcome state for immigrants.

(Originally posted in the Fulton County Daily Report.)

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