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Georgia House passes controversial immigration bill

Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens) speaks in front of the Georgia House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 27, 2024
Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens) speaks in front of the Georgia House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 27, 2024

The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would require local law enforcement to cooperate more closely with federal immigration authorities, while punishing those which do not.

Occupying over an hour of sometimes-heated debate on a busy voting day at the Capitol, House Bil 1105 would mandate that local law enforcement determine the immigration status of people they arrest, report undocumented migrants to the federal government, and comply with requests from the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours or longer if directed by a federal judge.

Representative Jesse Petrea, a Savannah Republican, sponsored the bill.

"This bill addresses how law enforcement interacts with individuals who are illegally in the country and then break the laws of our country subsequently," Petrea told lawmakers. "To be very clear, it is about that and nothing more."

House Democrats, however, assailed the bill on several points. Stacey Evans, a Democrat from Atlanta, said that the bill would hamper local law enforcement from dealing with the myriad problems it faces in many communities.

"I trust those that bring the bill that say this is not about spewing hate or being less welcoming of immigrants, but I do believe it is about stepping on the feet - on the hands - of law enforcement who are trying to deal with high crime," she said.

Evans also said that the bill would effectively "defund the police" in some situations, a charge levelled against Democratic lawmakers in Georgia and across the county in recent years.

"That's what this bill does. If we don't like what you do, funds from the sheriff are gone. So I think we can mark it down - Republican leadership, House Bill 1105 votes to defund the police. I don't want to be any part of that," Evans said.

That assertion was challenged, but not directly rebutted, by Petrea, the bill’s sponsor, speaking later in the debate, who said, "if you follow the law you, nobody's defunded."

Representative Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Gwinnett County, equated the measure with racial profiling and warned House members that it would cause immigrant communities to live in fear.

"We have had enough of minorities and immigrants having to refuse police services because they fear being twice victimized simply because their skin is brown or they have an accent," Marin said.

He also charged that the bill was an overreach and driven by partisan politics, a charge rebutted by Athens Republican Representative Houston Gaines.

"Here is what I know," Gaines told lawmakers. "Fixing policy in the face of unspeakable tragedy is not politics. It's doing the right thing to ensure something like this never occurs again."

Gaines also pointed out that parts of the bill are already part of state law, but those requirements are ignored by some law enforcement agencies.

Representative J Collins, a Republican from Villa Rica, reinforced that point, and noted that HB 1105 provides criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who refuse to comply.

"This bill will send a clear message that adherence to the law is not optional," he said. Under the terms of HB 1105, a law enforcement officer who fails to comply with the law if it is passed could face misdemeanor charges.

House Bill 1105 passed by a 97-74 margin. It moves to the Georgia Senate for consideration.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.