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After Laken Riley killing, a Georgia bill prompts fears of an immigration crackdown

A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups hold a rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol in protest of HB 1105, a bill which would require local law enforcement to take on responsibilities of immigration and customs enforcements agents as part of a federal program known as 287g.
Matthew Pearson
/
WABE
A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups hold a rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol in protest of HB 1105, a bill which would require local law enforcement to take on responsibilities of immigration and customs enforcements agents as part of a federal program known as 287g.

Georgia Republican lawmakers are advancing a bill that would require local and state police to identify, arrest and detain undocumented immigrants – responsibilities normally reserved for federal immigration enforcement.

The proposal gained momentum after a Venezuelan migrant was arrested in the killing of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student in Athens, Georgia. Immigrant rights advocates in the state say the bill demonizes immigrants, pointing to research that shows undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than others.

But Republican state Rep. Jesse Petrea, the bill's sponsor, said it will bolster public safety.

"We have the greatest border crisis in our nation's history," he said. "In Georgia, the people of this state, the people we represent, are expecting us to do something. And I think this is a good way to do just that."

The proposal is similar to Senate Bill 4, the Texas measure that empowers state and local police to arrest people who illegally cross the southern border and allows local judges to deport migrants out of the country. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently put the Texas law on hold as a challenge from the Biden administration and immigrant advocacy groups plays out.

Georgia's bill would require law enforcement to check immigration status during encounters and work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold those arrested. It would also require jails to check with immigration officials to determine if people in their custody are in the country illegally.

Opponents argue the bill will lead to racial profiling.

"This bill will force human beings to live in fear and burden local governments and law enforcement officers by expanding their responsibilities, without a penny of state funding," said Democratic state Rep. Pedro Marin, the legislature's longest-serving Latino elected official.

Georgia sheriffs say they already comply with federal requests for citizenship information, and have expressed worries that the proposal would overburden their departments.

"It's not about making Georgians safer," said Jerry Gonzalez, the CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. "The issue is about using an opportunistic situation, to target wholesale, an immigrant and Latino community and that's really divisive and it's dangerous politics they're playing."

Immigrant rights advocates in Georgia say the bill is motivated by the upcoming presidential election, and multiple advocacy groups have held events condemning the legislation.

Ben Williams, president of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, compared the bill to Jim Crow policies.

"Bashing immigrants now, bashing descendants of slaves at an earlier time, is a tried and unfortunately true approach to keeping people divided," he said.

But Republicans in Georgia insist they're addressing immigration in a meaningful way.

"Fixing policy in the face of unspeakable tragedy is not politics," said Republican state Rep. Houston Gaines, whose district includes Athens, where Laken Riley was killed. "It's doing the right thing to ensure something like this never occurs again."

The bill has passed out of the Georgia House of Representatives but still needs to clear the state Senate before it can head to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's desk.

Copyright 2024 90.1 WABE

Emily Wu Pearson, WABE
[Copyright 2024 KBBI]