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Georgia Takes Risky Gamble with Harsh Immigration Law

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nathan dealFlorida flirted with passing an Arizona-style immigration law, but rightly decided to abandon the effort after weeks of controversy and heavy pushback.

Not so with Georgia.

Last Friday, despite intense opposition from business, student, immigrant, and faith groups, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) placed his state on a perilous path by signing anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s “papers, please” law.  The state now has one of the nation’s toughest immigration measures, though two other Southern states—Alabama and South Carolina—are also considering similar bills that many expect will pass this year.

The new law, like Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, forces local and state police to double as immigration officials, gives them power to demand documentation from Georgians, and allows them to detain those they suspect are in the country illegally.  It differs slightly from Arizona in that it softens requirements for E-Verify, the federal program that confirms whether employees can legally work in the United States.

The Georgia bill becomes law at a curious time: last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a ruling blocking the most contentious parts of Arizona’s law.  And a number of reports have revealed the economic consequences of the Grand Canyon State passing SB 1070 last April. 

According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress:

Arizona saw a total loss of $217 million in direct spending by convention attendees, along with an additional $535.4 million in lost tax revenues, economic output, and earnings in the immediate wake of S.B. 1070’s enactment. 

By following Arizona’s example, Georgia can now expect millions of dollars in legal billsthousands of jobs lost due to decreased economic activity, and organized boycotts across the state.  The new law takes effect July 1; groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center already say they are considering lawsuits against the state, while business interests like the state Chamber of Commerce have expressed fears that the legislation will hurt tourism.