Valdosta Daily Times

State News

March 9, 2013

Changes in Ga. immigration bill draw opposition

ATLANTA — Some quiet changes to a bill that was intended as a simple fix for unintended consequences of a 2011 crackdown on illegal immigration have turned the bill that originally had pretty universal support into a rallying point for activists on all sides of the immigration issue.

The bill sponsored by state Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton, was presented as a solution to complaints from several state agencies that Georgia’s 2011 law was creating extra work and delays in processing public benefits, including professional licenses.

It was an almost purely bureaucratic measure that neither those in favor of tighter controls on illegal immigration nor immigrant rights advocates had paid much attention to.

But the amended bill passed by the House Monday would effectively deny driver’s licenses to young people who were brought here illegally as children and who have been granted temporary permission to stay and work here under an Obama administration initiative. It also would bar illegal immigrants from being able to get a marriage license or access water and sewage services in the state.

Though the amendments would affect relatively few people, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is quickly

organizing efforts to protest the bill.

“All of a sudden, we’re confronted with all of these damaging changes,” the ACLU’s Azadeh Shahshahani said. “These are all additional complications and burdens that we don’t need.”

The Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for stronger laws targeting illegal immigration and stricter enforcement of existing laws, sent out an email blast to supporters urging them to call their lawmakers to tell them to keep Hightower’s bill intact and to defeat a more limited Senate version of the bill.

Though Hightower says he didn’t initially realize the potential effects of the changes, he hasn’t said whether he intends to take them out. He said the additions to his bill weren’t meant to dupe anyone, that they were intended to streamline the legislative process.

“The original intent of this bill was to be something to facilitate people obtaining and keeping a professional license in a much easier fashion,” he said, adding that it was also meant to preserve taxpayer-funded public benefits for U.S. citizens and other eligible legal residents.

Georgia’s 2011 law targeting illegal immigration requires anyone applying for or renewing public benefits — like professional licenses, welfare and unemployment benefits — to provide a “secure and verifiable” document proving their U.S. citizenship or legal presence in the country.

People in the country illegally have long been ineligible for Georgia driver’s licenses. But after the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program took effect in August, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens declared that those with deferred status could get a temporary driver’s license.

However, the advisory opinion Olens issued at Gov. Nathan Deal’s request seems to indicate that those in the federal program are not eligible for state identity cards, because those IDs are subject to the law governing public benefits. The pending legislation adds “state issued driver’s licenses” to the list of public benefits.

Hightower said he didn’t know whether his bill denies driver’s licenses to those granted deferred action, and said that wasn’t his specific intent. But he didn’t say if that was something he’d be in favor of or if he’d reconsider the addition of driver’s licenses to the list of public benefits.

The 2011 law charged the state attorney general’s office with creating a list of documents that government agencies could accept if they require identification for an official purpose. The list currently includes foreign passports, the only document on the list that those in the country illegally would be able to obtain legitimately.

Hightower’s bill says that to be acceptable, foreign passports would have to be accompanied by federal immigration documentation proving someone is in the country legally.

By removing foreign passports from the list unless they’re accompanied by federal immigration documentation, the new bill would technically prevent illegal immigrants from getting a marriage license in Georgia or from accessing water and sewage service in the many municipalities that require identification to turn on service.

Hightower said the possibility of preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses and access to water and sewer services was not intentional. Since being made aware of that issue, he’s looking at what can be done to resolve it, he said.

1
Text Only
State News
  • Ga. online tuition dropping

    Jenni Small has good reason for avoiding 8 a.m. world literature classes at Dalton State College in northern Georgia. The 23-year-old works night shifts as an operator for carpet manufacturer Shaw while finishing her bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
    Instead of heading straight to class from work, she uses eCore — an online system that focuses on “core” classes that every Georgia state college or university student must take — for 1 or 2 courses each semester.

    April 21, 2014

  • Vidalia Onion Battle_Rich copy.jpg Vidalia onion farmer back in court over ship date

    One of Georgia’s most prominent Vidalia onion farmers is going back to court in an effort to stop the state agriculture commissioner from fining growers who ship the famous sweet onions before a certain date.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • GEORGIA PORTS_Rich copy.jpg Ga. ports on track to smash cargo records

    Georgia’s seaports are on track to finish the 2014 fiscal year with record cargo volumes as third-quarter numbers show big growth capped by the ports’ busiest month ever in terms of total tonnage being shipped to and from the docks.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gov. Deal signs prisoner re-entry bill into law

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law on Sunday that is aimed at reducing recidivism among ex-offenders and helping them successfully re-enter society.

    April 14, 2014

  • Deal reports $3.9M in cash for re-election bid

    Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday reported $3.9 million in cash for his re-election bid, after raising about $84,000 in 11 days since the legislative session ended.

    April 8, 2014

  • photoscape_eagle.jpg Ga. eagle population continues growth

    During a late-March aerial survey by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, more than 25 bald eagle nests were counted in northeastern Georgia. All but three represented viable adults and chicks.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Private company selling Georgia accident reports

    Selling car crash reports to a private company has saved time and money according to state officials, but some drivers cite concerns over retrieval costs and privacy.

    April 7, 2014

  • Forecasters issue flood watch in Ga.

    The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch covering much of the state.

    April 6, 2014

  • Georgia wants private companies to manage student housing

    Georgia is on course to become one of the nation’s largest experiments in privatized college dorms, but it’s unclear whether the changes will lower students’ bills at a time when university costs are soaring.

    April 6, 2014

  • Ga. misses food stamp backlog deadline

    State officials say Georgia missed the deadline to clear backlogged food stamp cases, putting millions of dollars of federal funding at risk.

    April 5, 2014

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results