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Georgia: Don’t Allow Extremism to Highjack Good Fixes to Immigration Bill

Immigrants Rights are Civil Rights
Immigrants Rights are Civil Rights
Azadeh N. Shahshahani,
ACLU Foundation of Georgia
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March 27, 2013

Two years ago, Georgia passed one of the most stringent immigration laws in the country, House Bill 87. Both supporters and opponents of the bill now agree that it has a major flaw which needs to be fixed quickly. As written, the law subjects U.S. citizens renewing a professional license to months of delay, costing many of them their jobs and livelihood.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle wisely pledged to work together to do away with this unacceptable consequence. Straightforward, fix-it bills were introduced in the state House and Senate. Unfortunately, a few legislators have pushed for last-minute changes to the bills, sending them in a completely different direction. The changes threaten to embroil Georgia into another protracted and rancorous debate.

One change would make it a crime for state and local government officials to accept any foreign passport as proof of identification unless the passport is accompanied by proof of legal immigration status. This, even though a passport is the most secure form of ID issued by an individual's country of citizenship and one that's accepted by the federal TSA for airplane travel, where security is paramount. It defies common sense to make it a crime for government workers to accept foreign passports as proof that a person is who they say they are.

Although the consequences of this provision may not be readily apparent, it could bar immigrants from obtaining marriage certificates in counties such as Fulton where a foreign passport is accepted as proof of identity for marriage. Confusion created by the provision could also prevent children of immigrants from attending public schools given that the schools require proof of ID for enrollment.

Another change could make it impossible for tens of thousands of lawfully present immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses, including not only "DREAMers" granted a work permit from the federal government, but also immigrants who have lived and worked legally in Georgia for over a decade.

Besides the harm to individuals, the amendments would impose an undue burden on local governments across Georgia.

These changes inject chaos into an otherwise sensible proposal. Let's get back to making common sense, constructive change. Legislators and the Governor can do that, by sticking with the original fix-it bills that lawmakers crafted to address a problem everyone agreed needed attention.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the Fulton County Daily Report.

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