Immigrants Are Welcome Here, Arizona Copycat Bills are Not!

March 1, 2011

By Lisa Adler, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

[UPDATE: Pick up the phone and call GA House Speaker David Ralston (404) 656-5020 and your GA Representatives now. When you reach the office, please be sure to make a statement along these lines:  “Vote ‘no’ on the Arizona Copycat HB 87 bill and all other anti-immigrant legislation. Any legislation that leads to racial profiling or pushes immigrant workers out of Georgia harms our state economically and morally.”]

As they promised, Georgia state Republicans have introduced Arizona SB 1070 copy cat bills, HB 87 in the House and SB 40 in the Senate.  On Monday, February 28th, HB 87 passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, which means a vote on the House Floor is imminent. We need your help in defeating this blatantly discriminatory bill.

If enacted, HB 87 would empower police officers to ask any individual to prove his/her lawful immigration status or citizenship during the course of a stop, including routine traffic stops, jaywalking or a variety of other commonplace actions.  This bill—and its Senate companion SB 40–has no safeguards against racial profiling.  Despite the claims by the bill’s author that race cannot be used, documentation of racial profiling related to immigration and criminal stops is widely available.

Furthermore, all Georgians—including citizens–will essentially be forced to carry their legal documents for fear of being arbitrarily stopped and detained.  For example, if these bills pass, and  I walk to the store, I must now carry my US passport? Because if I am stopped and do not carry any proof of my status, I may be detained.

While police officers may give some people the benefit of the doubt, a person of color with a Central American accent is not likely to receive the same benefit, even if s/he is a US citizen.  These portions of the bills raise serious due process, racial profiling and privacy concerns.

As public policy, criminalization is fundamentally flawed because it is unable to address the root causes that push people to migrate:  lack of economic opportunity, war and poverty.  Criminalization does not address the lack of legal migration channels open to low and semi-skilled immigrants and the very real demand for cheap, flexible labor in many economies.

US immigration law refers to positions that don’t require a college degree or its equivalent as “unskilled” positions.  This terminology is problematic as it ignores the years of experience and skill many workers are required to have in their relevant field such as construction, harvesting, caring for children full-time, landscaping and other jobs.

HB 87 encourages and provides incentives to state and local police to participate in federal immigration enforcement programs such as 287(g).  The truth is, almost all counties in GA already use some combination of Secure Communities or 287(g), despite the fact that there is not a lot of data about their effectiveness.  In fact, recent studies have shown that the majority of those who are deported under these programs are arrested (not necessarily convicted) for non-violent offenses despite the said intention to target violent offenders.

The impact of these deportations must be noted: separating families, creating fear in the immigrant community to report anything to law enforcement, and sometimes even resulting in the deportation of legal residents and US citizens.

Imagine making the decision to leave behind your country, your language, your family, and your home to make the very dangerous decision to go somewhere you have never been, to live in the shadows of a society that so often condemns and vilifies you not for what you do here, but simply due to who you are.  How harrowing must the situation be, how all encompassing the economic desperation when a person is driven to make that decision.  Unknown to them, however, is that they may face arbitrary arrest and detention in the US, “the land of the free.”

Let’s join together to stop passage of HB 87 and SB 40 and tell GA lawmakers that immigrants ARE welcome here.
SAVE THE DATE:  Rally for Dignity, Thursday, March 24th at the Georgia State Capitol, 11:00am.  Stay tuned for more details.