Far from Mexican border, Georgia mulls Arizona-style immigration crackdown
Georgia could become the next legal and political flashpoint over illegal immigration if it adopts an Arizona-style immigration law. But supporters of the dominant Republican Party are divided.
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Bill moving toward passage
But the question over how tough Georgia should get has been a vexing one for Republicans. The Senate watered down a tougher House bill on Monday, taking out a requirement that all employers use the federal E-Verify system to check the residency status of workers. (The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling soon on whether states can force employers to use E-Verify for all new hires.) The House threw those changes out the next day, sending the original bill back to the Senate.Skip to next paragraph
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On Thursday afternoon, the bill continued to move toward passage, according to Senate sources, as legislators debated giving farmers and businesses a grace period under which to comply with the law before receiving penalties.
If passed, the Georgia law is likely to meet immediate legal scrutiny. On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals joined other federal appeals courts – including the 3rd and 10th – in shooting down local preemption of federal immigration laws. The 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, found that the Arizona law – SB 1070 – went too far by giving police new powers to demand identification from suspects and sided with a lower court ruling that the law treads on federal jurisdictions by establishing state criminal penalties for immigration-related crimes. Like the Arizona law, the Georgia bill also creates new criminal categories related to illegal immigration, including making the harboring of an illegal immigrant a crime.
Fears of Mexican cartels
For many Georgians, the bill addresses growing fears about Mexican cartels using local immigrant communities as cover for drug-trafficking, and in the process bringing the bloody Mexican drug wars closer to home. Announcing over 600 arrests as part of Operation Southern Tempest, which focused on 168 US cities, including Atlanta, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in early March, "These people are up to the worst sort of violent crimes in the communities they live in. These guys aren't in book clubs, they're in violent street gangs."
"The cartel issue is what drives fears – and they're not irrational or groundless," says Mr. Krikorian.
Critics of state immigration crackdowns, however, point out that the Obama administration has taken action to resolve complaints about federal immigration enforcement, especially when dealing with violent criminals. The Department of Homeland Security deported more illegal immigrants last year – more than 400,000 – than any other US administration in history.
Another way to explain how two vastly different states are reaching the same conclusion on how to tackle the social and economic costs of illegal immigration is that such efforts are, in essence, a burgeoning form of protest by rising Republican majorities in the states, as conservatives tease out themes and policies likely to pay dividends in the 2012 election. It's not a settled debate on the right. On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) – a potential presidential contender – said he opposes the Arizona-style law enforcement provisions that are part of an Indiana immigration proposal.
"These laws right now are more symbolic than real," says Mr. Johnson, the immigration law expert at UC-Davis.