My home state, Georgia, falling in lockstep with Arizona and other states that have attempted to take a cavalier approach to the immigration delimma, recently passed its own law, and Gov. Nathan Deal subsequently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he intends to sign the bill into law.
Proponents of the bill, which allows local and state law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of suspects, say the passage is a triumph in light of the federal government’s inadequate enforcement measures, while opponents claim the bill will put more burden on local businesses and will result in racial profiling.
Rep. Matt Ramsey, the Georgia House bill sponsor, had this to say after the bill’s passage:
It’s a great day for Georgia. We think we have done our job that our constituents asked us to do to address the costs and the social consequences that have been visited upon our state by the federal government’s failure to secure our nation’s borders.
The legislation would also require businesses of more than 10 employees to use the federal E-Verify system to check the status of hired employees.
Jann Moore, with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, said the plan would put undue pressure on businesses amid a still-struggling economic climate:
We’re coming out of [a] recession, and businesses are doing all they can do right now to stay afloat. To turn around and put the responsibility of another policy on business is the wrong thing to do. The timing could not be worse.
Parts of Arizona’s law have been put on hold because of federal challenges of constitutionality. Georgia’s version, which resembles Arizona’s Senate Bill, is one of a handful of state immigration laws that have passed nationwide. It could suffer the fate of Arizona’s since the constitution, opponent say, suggests that the federal government alone confers citizenship.
According to the 14th Amendment, Section 1, Clause 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
The key words here are “jurisdiction thereof.” Two relevent definitions of “jurisdiction” follow:
- the right, power, or authority to administer justice byhearing and determining controversies.
- power; authority; control: He has jurisdiction over allAmerican soldiers in the area.
The above clause does not say, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and the individual states, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” but that jurisdiction belongs to the United States as a whole, and while individual concerns about immigration are understood, states’ attempts to skirt federal law may present a dangerous precedent, not only because of the possibility of racial profiling by law enforcement officials, but because this could result in a hodgepodge of immigration laws across the nation.
Columnist Tom Crawford, with the Georgia Report, said that even if Deal signs the bill, the buck would stop there:
The U.S. Justice Department will challenge the law in federal court and have it set aside – just as they did with the Arizona law. That’s why all this talk about solving the immigration problem at the state level is a sham. This is the federal government’s problem and the blame for not resolving it must fall on the people elected to Congress.
In Georgia’s case, that would be Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. Both have taken a hard-line approach on the issue of immigration, and both voted “nay” to a reform bill in 2007. Chambliss’ record. Isakson’s record.
In addition to the legal questions of Georgia’s bill, implicit in the discussion is the perceived damage such legislation might do to the economy, which in Georgia is largely agricultural. Local growers have said they are worried that if the immigration bill actually goes into effect, many members of their current workforce will jump ship and local farms won’t have enough labor to pick crops and tend the fields. Outside of the Atlanta metro, the economic impact could be detrimental.
[Photo credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC - Ouafae Azhari (foreground) shouts out as other demonstrators protest Georgia House Bill 87 outside the Capitol on the final day of the 2011 legislative session.]