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Newest Anti-Immigrant Law Will Further Damage Georgia

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Just when it seemed that Georgia was coming to grips with the damage caused by HB 87, the state's Arizona-inspired anti-immigrant law, some lawmakers are again attempting to rush through new measures that would further marginalize and exclude immigrants from our community.

SB 458 is moving quickly through the state legislature and includes two especially troubling provisions. One would ban undocumented students from all public universities and colleges in Georgia, even though they are paying out of state tuition. The stakes are high in that many of these exemplary youth will either be forced out of the state to pursue schooling elsewhere or abandon their dreams altogether.

The second provision buried in the bill may seem technical in nature, but is actually quite insidious and broad sweeping. Lawmakers now aim to prohibit state and local governments from accepting many foreign passports as proof of identification. In effect, both immigrants and foreign tourists would be unable to prove their identity in a wide range of interactions, denying them entrance to certain government buildings, taking away services as essential as water and sewage, and even thwarting their ability to marry -- a fundamental constitutional right. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked provisions with similar effect in Alabama earlier this month.

Why is the legislature messing with foreign passports? HB 87 required the Attorney General (AG) to publish a list of "secure and verifiable documents" and outlawed the acceptance of any other identity documents by state and local governments. The AG was hardly going out on a limb when he placed foreign passports on his list. After all, passports are accepted by the federal Transportation Security Administration for airplane travel, where security is tantamount.

Apparently, some Georgia legislators think they know better by striking foreign passports from the AG's list of "secure and verifiable documents" unless the passport is submitted with "a valid United States Homeland Security Form I-94 or I-94A or other federal document specifying an alien's lawful immigration status."

But this seemingly technical change would not just affect undocumented immigrants. Foreign visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program do not have the forms required by the bill. What do the politicians supporting this bill have against British, Swedish, and Japanese tourists? Does Georgia really want to discourage foreign tourism from thirty-six of the world's wealthiest countries by sending a message to travelers that they better watch out because their passports are no good as ID in Georgia?

Some reforms in SB 458 sensibly relieve unnecessary burdens HB 87 imposes on the state's residents and government agencies. However, the student ban and foreign passport provisions push Georgia in the complete opposite direction, injecting new controversy, litigation, and reputational harm.

The disastrous impact of HB 87 on Georgia's economy and reputation has been felt by many across the state. Georgia Legislators and Governor Deal should resoundingly reject any further attempts at making Georgia an unwelcome state for immigrants.

Azadeh Shahshahani is National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director at the ACLU of Georgia. Jonathan Blazer is Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

A version of this article first ran in The Fulton County Daily Report.

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