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Georgia: The Arc From Anti-Immigrant Laws to Needing Immigrants

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What a difference a decade makes.

In 2011, the GOP-controlled Georgia Legislature passed HB 87, a viciously anti-immigrant bill, modeled after Arizona’s notorious SB 1070. The legislation was signed into law by then-Governor Nathan Deal on May 13, 2011. The new law made it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, imposed harsh penalties for providing false papers to an undocumented immigrant, and established “papers please” policy allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they “reasonably suspected” to be in the country illegally. It also contained E-Verify provisions.

The results were headlines like these:

​​Georgia Farmers Say Immigration Law Keeps Workers Away

Georgia Learns a Hard Truth: Illegal Immigrants Keep Us Fed

The Law Of Unintended Consequences: Georgia’s Immigration Law Backfires

Immigration law already hitting Georgia farmers

Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers

Georgia’s Harsh Immigration Law Leaves Crops Rotting in Fields

Ga. immigrant crackdown backfires

It was a disaster. Fortunately, in 2012, most provisions of Georgia’s law were found to be unconstitutional. 

Meanwhile, Republicans in Georgia have continued to run anti-immigrant political campaigns. During the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary, Brian Kemp stated in an ad, “I got a big truck. Just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.” Notably, despite the xenophobic rhetoric, Georgia Republicans have not pushed anti-immigrant legislation. 

Fast forward to 2021, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “As Georgia faces labor shortage, lawmakers consider solutions from immigrant advocates.

In Georgia and throughout the country, the pace of the post-COVID economic recovery has been slowed by a persistent challenge: labor shortages.

Earlier this month, the state’s labor commissioner told the AJC the situation is unprecedented: “We have never had this many jobs sitting open.”

As those shortages drag on, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has been meeting to learn about ways Georgia immigrants could be part of the solution, and more fully contribute to the state’s economy. (emphasis added)

It took ten years, a disastrous anti-immigrant law, and a pandemic, but Georgia may finally be facing the reality that immigrants are integral to the state. The past decade has shown quite an arc. Question remains whether the state will act policies that address this for the benefit of the state’s economy  – or continue the vilification for purely political reasons.