HomeGeorgia NewsNew Georgia bill targets local governments over immigration policies, threatens official removal

New Georgia bill targets local governments over immigration policies, threatens official removal

Georgia – A group of Georgia senators aims to take action against local governments they believe are wrongly providing refuge to undocumented immigrants. They propose slashing most state financial support for these areas and even removing elected officials from their positions.

This decision came after a 4-1 vote by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, targeting the amendment of House Bill 301. The change is seen as necessary to uphold a 2009 Georgia law that bans the existence of so-called sanctuary cities and counties, where local laws are perceived to protect undocumented immigrants. This move by the Republicans comes in the wake of allegations against a Venezuelan man, accused of a violent crime on a university campus.

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Last month, Jose Ibarra, aged 26, was arrested for the murder and assault of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, following her disappearance after a morning jog. It was reported that Ibarra entered the U.S. unlawfully in 2022, but it’s unknown if he sought asylum. Riley was studying nursing at Augusta University’s campus in Athens and was found deceased on February 22.

In revising the bill, which was initially about penalizing speeding captured by automated cameras, the committee introduced a complete overhaul. Senator Kim Jackson expressed frustration over the rushed process, highlighting the lack of opportunity to review the new proposal before the discussion.

Under the revamped bill, any resident of Georgia could request a legal judgment against a city or county for not complying with the 2009 sanctuary law. A positive ruling would lead to the withdrawal of both state and controlled federal funding, excluding critical emergency and health services, impacting local budgets for infrastructure like roads.

If a local government decides to take back a rule that judges find wrong, they might get their state funding back. A judge would then make sure this government doesn’t bring back any rules that protect undocumented immigrants by setting a lasting ban.

The proposed law also suggests that local officials could lose their jobs if their area tries to protect these immigrants. Any person living in Georgia can report to the Board of Community Affairs if they think an official isn’t following state laws. This board would look into the complaint and advise the governor on whether the official should be temporarily removed from their job. The governor has the power to permanently replace these officials.

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A group of Georgia senators propose slashing most state financial support for areas providing refuge to undocumented immigrants

However, these officials have a chance to get their positions back if they can prove that their return would help their government follow the law against protecting undocumented immigrants better. Senator Randy Robertson emphasized that this law aims to make sure local sheriff’s departments work with the national immigration authorities to enforce the 2009 law properly.

“What we’ve done in this legislation is we’ve added some teeth, because there were none in the past,” Robertson said.

Opponents of the bill argue that it’s another way for Republican legislators to enforce their views on local governments, potentially leading to numerous legal and bureaucratic challenges for cities and counties.

Isabel Otero, the Georgia policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, stresses that the existing electoral system already serves as a means to hold local governments accountable. She believes legislative interference in local matters is unnecessary and undermines local autonomy. Otero draws parallels between this bill and Georgia’s now-defunct Immigration Enforcement Review Board, which faced criticism for its handling of local immigration enforcement complaints, including a notable one from then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle against the city of Decatur. That board was eventually disbanded in 2019.

This bill is part of a broader push for stricter immigration policies in Georgia, illustrated by another recent legislative effort. The Georgia House recently passed House Bill 1105, which mandates local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities to identify and potentially detain undocumented immigrants. This initiative has notably placed Athens-Clarke County in the spotlight, as pointed out by multiple Republican officials, including Lt. Gov Burt Jones.

“Athens-Clarke County local officials failed to protect the greatest asset that their county has: the students at the University of Georgia,” said Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones.

“Instead, they favored a radical agenda that puts the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the citizens of Athens-Clarke County. They, along with Joe Biden and Washington Democrats who have fought to open our borders to an invasion from illegal immigrants, are responsible for every action by every illegal immigrant they’ve allowed to live freely in our communities. As part of our ongoing commitment to protect Georgians, we are taking a stand against those who attempt to implement sanctuary policies that violate the law and harbor criminals.”

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Mayor Kelly Girtz of Athens-Clarke has stated that the city-county is not breaking any state laws, emphasizing that they submit an annual certification proving their compliance. Despite criticism related to a 2019 resolution by the Athens-Clarke County Commission, which expressed the local government’s intention to create a safe environment for people of all statuses, Girtz has clarified that this resolution is not legally binding.

Leander Thorne


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