Georgia joins mounting red state backlash to Obama immigration reform
In the same week that President Obama tried to lay out a middle path to immigration reform, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that takes a tough line on illegal immigration.
Three days after President Obama mocked Republicans as being unreasonable in the national immigration-reform debate, at least one Republican governor doubled down Friday, signing an Arizona-style immigration law in protest against what he deems failed federal policies.Skip to next paragraph
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The Georgia immigration law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal is a red-state rejoinder to Mr. Obama's insistence that some path to citizenship should be a part of any federal immigration reform. It gives state police more power to pinpoint people who are in the state illegally and forces larger agribusinesses to run employees' names through a federal database to verify their eligibility to work legally inside the United States.
That such a bill passed in Georgia – alienating the state's powerful agribusiness lobby, tourism officials, and a nascent Latino population – is a testament to the symbolic power that Governor Deal and other Republican legislators have invested in the issue. Indeed, with courts likely to strike down the more controversial parts of the law – as they have in Arizona and Utah – the symbolism of tilting at an allegedly out of touch Washington is perhaps the primary reason for passing the bill.
This symbolism in the immigration debate is exerting an increasingly powerful sway over the Republican Party, with similar bills churning in Alabama and Florida. And with a presidential election looming, Deal and his gubernatorial colleagues could yet see their law-and-order approach to immigration reform become a litmus test for Republican candidates.
"The divide in terms of the direction of immigration reform is in part a reflection of the fact that we have a stalemate in Congress," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. "So now we have more-conservative states in the South and West moving [toward] tough anti-immigration statutes," and, as a result, "the Republican party has moved increasingly toward this sort of hardline approach."