Georgia Acts on Illegal Immigration: Another Arizona?


Dear Nonprofit and Faith Leaders:
You are likely aware that legislators in Georgia have been grappling with immigration issues this year, and that there are proposals for “Arizona-style” legislation being seriously considered in this last two weeks of the 2011 legislative session, which draws to a close on April 14.
In this proposed legislation, there is an imminent threat to the mission and activities of many faith and nonprofit organizations. Most significantly, provisions of this law create new, significant criminal and civil penalties against organizations, staff, volunteers, and congregants – as well as against the women, children and families that you may be serving. Relevant provisions in the proposed legislation include:
· Misdemeanor and felony criminal offenses, including jail time of up to 5 years and financial penalties of up to $20,000 for individuals and/or organizations, for knowingly transporting or harboring an illegal alien, or for “enticing or assisting” an illegal alien to enter Georgia. “Harboring” is defined as “any conduct that tends to substantially help an illegal alien to remain in the United States.” While these provisions also require the commission of an additional crime at the same time, that additional crime can be a minor traffic offense. Here are some examples of situations that could provoke criminal charges against an individual or an organization, or at a minimum allow detention while questions are resolved:

o A church that provides rides to prayer services for Latino congregants, and whose driver is stopped for driving over the speed limit.

o A nonprofit social worker who provides a ride for a pregnant woman without a state identification document to go to the doctor, and who comes to a “rolling stop” at a stop sign.

o A nonprofit volunteer who is delivering meals to feed a hungry population that likely includes undocumented people, and who fails to use a turn signal.

· Mandatory provision of “secure” identification documents and an affidavit certifying legal status in the US for any individuals who receive certain kinds of “public benefits,” including: adult education and non-emergency health care, food and shelter assistance.

This is an urgent call to act quickly. We ask you to:
· Review and sign on to the attached letter to Georgia’s legislative leadership, proposing amendments to the legislation that will address nonprofit and faith concerns. You may do so by sending your electronic signature and organization name to bbolling@acfb.org or dgatlin@mac.com by Wednesday, April 6 if possible.

· Contact key legislators on the attached list directly, voice your concerns, and urge serious consideration of amendment that will allow non-profits and faith organizations to serve women, children and families in accordance with their missions.

Please do not hesitate to contact either or us with any questions or concerns.
Bill Bolling, Atlanta Community Food Bank, bbolling@acfb.org
Doug Gatlin, Faith And The City, dgatlin@mac.com

Letter as attached:

Dear Legislators:

Georgia’s non-profit organizations and faith institutions play a vital role in our community, particularly as people in our state struggle with today’s economic and social challenges. During these last days of the legislative session, we know that you are as determined as we are to ensure that Georgia’s children and families have the best possible opportunities to build a strong future.

While we understand the challenges that immigration poses for our state, we take this opportunity to alert you to what are surely unintended consequences of the proposed immigration reform. There are key provisions of this proposed legislation that create a grave threat to the faith institutions and non-profit organizations of Georgia, as they strive to support Georgia’s families. Nonprofits, which create one in every 20 paid jobs in Georgia according to the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, fill gaps in social services representing up to $22 billion each year – a vital contribution to the Georgia economy that could be unintentionally sacrificed.

Without a doubt, we commend actions that penalize human traffickers and harden criminals in Georgia. We are, however, gravely concerned that the criminal provisions of this bill may be inadvertently applied to those in the faith and nonprofit community who are simply fulfilling their missions. While the intended target behind the provisions criminalizing the transportation, harbor and/or assistance of undocumented aliens may be the smugglers and human traffickers, the reality is that coupling these new criminal offenses with the commission of a concurrent criminal offense continues to expose the faith and non-profit community to felony prosecution if a minor criminal infraction, such as a traffic offense, is the concurrent criminal offense.

By requiring our leaders, staff, volunteers and congregants to filter all services through the lens of immigration status in order to avoid felony criminal charges, these laws will serve as an insurmountable barrier in meeting the needs of Georgia’s most vulnerable. Placing those who work with charitable organization at risk for years of jail-time and thousands of dollars in criminal penalties, based on knowledge of the immigration status of those in need, creates an untenable situation for Georgia’s faith and nonprofit organizations. Further, increasing the verification requirements for the receipt of public benefits – beyond those that are current law as mandated in provision SB 529 – creates a significant, and redundant, administrative burden on organizations that are already stretched to a breaking point during the economic downturn.  This is particularly true where there is no evidence that the provisions of SB 529 already preventing undocumented aliens from receiving public benefits are not working. For newly arriving refugees, who are legally in this country, the waiting period to obtain secure identity documents is likely to prevent them from obtaining much needed services.

The extremely limited exemptions to criminal liability that are enumerated in the proposed legislation are insufficient to protect those ministering to the most basic humanitarian and religious needs of Georgia’s families. We strongly urge you to support an exemption to the criminal provisions of this law for nonprofit and faith based organizations, as well as those acting on their behalf. Additionally, we urge you to eliminate the redundant verification requirements associated with public benefits. Please see the attachment for suggested changes.

Thank you for working with us to ensure that Georgia upholds its commitment to the faith traditions and the social wellbeing of women, children and families in need.

Sincerely,

 

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