Teachers and Students in Georgia Speak Out Against HB 87

In recent months, legislators in Georgia have aspired to imitate their peers in Arizona by passing a bill that allows state and local authorities to police the immigration status of state residents.  These measures have raised serious concerns about the possibility of racial profiling and the power of state governments to regulate immigration, which has traditionally been a function of the federal government.   The current anti-immigrant agenda among conservatives portends a worrying trend toward the politics of scapegoating in the United States, as immigrants are held to blame for problems such as budget deficits, unemployment, healthcare costs and so forth.

Governor Nathan Deal has indicated that he will sign HB 87, but many constituencies, ranging from business groups in agriculture and tourism to human rights organizations, have questioned the wisdom of the legislation.   Several educators in Atlanta have drawn up the following statement, which we hope will contribute to the chorus of opposition to HB 87 (you can find a link to sign the petition below):

Members of the Georgia Academic Community Call for Governor Nathan Deal to Veto HB 87

We, the undersigned, would like to express our opposition to HB 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, which was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives on April 20, 2011. We are faculty, staff and students in Georgia’s colleges and universities, and we urge Governor Nathan Deal to veto this legislation. The bill promotes racial profiling, transgresses the authority of the federal government to regulate immigration, wastes badly needed state funds, and damages the reputation and economy of the state. It is a political gimmick designed to satisfy those who would blame immigrants for all the state’s problems, not a practical solution for the economic and social challenges we face in these difficult times.

For years, Georgia’s economy has taken advantage of low-wage workers in a wide variety of fields, from agriculture to construction to services. With little ability to lobby for better conditions, undocumented workers in particular have been exploited by employers who profited from their vulnerability. We recognize that this situation poses real problems for communities across our state and the nation, and we look to the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will address the status of the estimated eleven million undocumented individuals in the country. Placing the burden of reform on the workers themselves, though, will do little to change the demand for cheap labor and wrongly penalizes people whose only crime is to work hard to improve the lives of their families. Above all, we reject the punitive spirit and misguided intent of this bill.

The most disquieting part of HB 87, like the controversial Arizona law on which it was modeled, is the prospect that Georgians will be singled out for police scrutiny because they “seem” like they might be undocumented immigrants. Although the bill only permits police to investigate a person’s immigration status when he or she is already suspected of committing another offense, it is not hard to imagine how authorities could use any number of pretexts to demand proof of citizenship from those deemed to be suspicious. The offense could be as minor as loitering or running a stop sign. The likelihood that people will be scrutinized based on their physical appearance remains inescapable, creating a situation in which some can expect to be asked for their “papers” while others go freely about their business. We are troubled by the bill’s potential to deprive Georgians of equal protection under the law, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution; we also question the constitutionality of a state government interfering in the regulation of immigration, which, like foreign policy, is a responsibility of the federal government. The state government will likely be forced to spend a great deal of time and resources defending a measure that is sure to face concerted opposition in the courts.

As faculty, staff and students of Georgia’s colleges and universities, we have already seen the harmful potential of such anti-immigrant policies. This bill provides extra money to local authorities to investigate residents’ immigration status and detain those who cannot prove their right to be here, even as the state has enacted year after year of cuts to education and other vital services. It follows in the same counterproductive steps as the recent decision by the Board of Regents of the state university system to exclude undocumented immigrants – many of whom came here through no fault of their own as children, and only want to study and contribute to our society. Such policies are not merely unfair but self-defeating. They deprive the universities of tuition dollars, and they consign a whole group of young people to a permanent caste of lower status, unable to obtain an education and condemned to work for low wages in the shadows of the economy. Their undeveloped talents represent both a practical loss and a moral failure that the state of Georgia can ill afford.

If signed into law, the bill will hurt Georgia’s economy in numerous other ways. Businesses are less likely to invest in a state that is perceived as having a hostile attitude toward diversity, and many organizations will choose not to hold their conferences and other meetings here, depriving the state and countless businesses of revenue and stunting economic recovery. (The Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau and the Georgia Farm Bureau have already voiced serious concerns about the law’s potential to drive visitors, investors, and workers away from our state.) The US Human Rights Network, based in Atlanta, has announced that it will move its December conference outside of the state if the bill becomes law, and it is working with other groups to enforce a boycott of Georgia to protest the measure. While we regret the impact a boycott will have on the state, we feel obligated to support these efforts. The costs of this law must be felt for its injustice to be understood. We pledge to lobby organizations of which we are members not to hold conferences or other events in the state, and we will support protests of companies and organizations that choose to hold meetings here in defiance of the boycott.

In conclusion, we ask Governor Deal to consider what is in the best interests of our communities, our economy, and the fair treatment of all Georgians, regardless of their race, ethnicity, national origin or immigration status. We urge the Governor in the strongest possible terms to veto this bill and save our state the needless cost that this unjust and unwise legislation will incur.

To sign the letter, follow this link: