By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published March 3, 2011
Legislation that proposes new penalties for employing illegal immigrants, possessing fraudulent identification and for transporting or “harboring” illegal immigrants will be debated in the full Georgia House of Representatives. The legislation also proposes giving law enforcement officers in the state the power to enforce federal immigration laws in certain circumstances and requires employers to use a federal verification system before hiring.
House Bill 87, the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011,” sponsored by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), was favorably voted out of a House judicial committee Feb. 28.
In the first half of the legislative session, the bill has been in committee where it has been debated and to some extent revised.
Among those taking a position on the bill is the Georgia Farm Bureau, which has opposed the legislation because of the impact on the state’s largest industry, agriculture. Farmers say they have difficulty already finding enough agricultural workers and the verification that would be required would be insurmountable.
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, testified against the bill in committee because of its impact on Catholic Church ministries. Earlier provisions would have put individuals at risk of being arrested if they transported people found to be in the country illegally. Mulcahy said the impact on many church ministries, from driving youth to a confirmation retreat, taking a soccer team to a game or taking a sick person from a homeless shelter to a hospital, would be devastating and criminalize acts of charity.
While that provision has been re-worded in the version sent to the full House, the Catholic Conference is still opposing the legislation, Mulcahy said Feb. 28.
He wrote, “As recommended by the House Judiciary (non-civil) committee, HB 87 creates the risk of criminal prosecution against churches and social welfare organizations by prohibiting any person from ‘harboring’ any person present in the United States in violation of federal immigration law.”
“‘Harboring’ is broadly defined as ‘any conduct that tends to substantially help an illegal alien remain in the United States in violation of federal law.’ (This) could include many services provided by churches and social service agencies, such as women’s shelters, homeless shelters, retreat house, clinics and the like. The offense of ‘transporting or moving an illegal alien’ creates a similar risk,” he wrote.
Other concerns about the bill cited by the Georgia Catholic Conference include that it criminalizes actions that tend to help undocumented immigrants, criminalizes transporting undocumented immigrants, requires law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of anyone stopped for a criminal violation, which would include a traffic violation, and creates new documentation requirements for persons seeking public benefits with no exception for pregnant women or unborn children.