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Georgia Set to Enact First Arizona Copycat Anti-Immigrant Bill

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Georgia is set to become the first state since Arizona to empower local and state police to demand documentation of residency and to detain people they suspect are in the country without permission. Last Thursday, Georgia lawmakers passed a bill modeled on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, known by critics as the “show me your papers” law. Georgia’s first-term Republican governor, Nathan Deal, campaigned on passing the bill and says he will soon sign it into law. We speak to Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security and Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia, and Seth Freed Wessler, a senior research associate at the Applied Research Center and an investigative reporter for ColorLines.com. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrants in Georgia could soon be subject to a new law that authorizes police to check a suspect’s immigration status. Last Thursday, Georgia became the first state to pass a bill modeled on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, known by critics as the “show me your papers” law. Georgia’s first-term Republican Governor Nathan Deal campaigned on passing the bill and says he will soon sign it into law.

At least two dozen other states have introduced similar copycat bills, but Georgia is the first state besides Arizona where the bill has actually passed and is likely to become law. Civil rights advocates say the measure will spur increased racial profiling in a state where this is already a problem, and business groups have expressed concern about its impact on Georgia’s economy.

Meanwhile, key parts of Arizona’s SB 1070 remains held up in court. Last Monday the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that blocked a requirement that local police check the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be undocumented. The case could go to the Supreme Court.

For more, we’re joined from Atlanta by Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security and Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. And we’re joined here in New York by Seth Freed Wessler. He is a senior research associate at Applied Research Center and investigative reporter for ColorLines.com.

Azadeh, let’s begin with you. Explain this bill that has just passed in the Georgia legislature.

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: Yes, thank you very much for having me, Amy.

As you mentioned, you know, the bill has several different provisions. The provision that you talked about, the “show me your papers” provision, would authorize the police to proceed to check people’s immigration status that law enforcement comes into contact with in the course of an offense, including traffic offenses. So, basically, all Georgians will have to carry ID on them at all times in order to be — in order to avoid being detained while the police, you know, check their immigration status.

AMY GOODMAN: And who pushed this bill forward?


AMY GOODMAN: Who pushed this bill forward?

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: Well, you know, to this point, we still don’t know who was behind the legislation. Obviously, an article came out in the New York Times yesterday saying that, you know, FAIR and various national anti-immigrant groups were behind the legislation. You know, here in Georgia, we have four immigration detention facilities. Three of them are operated by private prison corporations. You know, there’s a lot of beds in need of filling. And so, you know, that also raises a lot of questions. You know, as in the case of Arizona, it was discovered that the Corrections Corporation of America pretty much drafted the bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Nathan Deal, the Georgia governor, proposed strong immigration enforcement in his first campaign commercial when he ran on the Republican ticket for governor last year.

NATHAN DEAL: I wrote the law to stop illegal aliens from receiving taxpayer-funded healthcare, cut billions in wasteful spending, and voted against Obamacare. And liberals won’t like it when I empower local law enforcement to help deport illegal aliens, but it must be done, because the federal government has failed to secure our borders, and illegal aliens are costing Georgia taxpayers over a billion dollars every year. I’m not worried about the liberals; my concern is you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Governor, when he was running for governor, Governor Nathan Deal. Yesterday, the New York Times piece said, “Lawmakers modified the Georgia bill slightly from Arizona’s and softened requirements surrounding use of the federal E-Verify program, which helps employers confirm online whether potential employees can legally work in the United States.

“That helped appease at least some of the state’s powerful agricultural and business interests, which had lobbied against the bill, and gave [Governor] Deal, a Republican who had been noticeably silent on the issue, enough confidence to throw his support behind the measure.”

What about the business and agricultural community being against the bill, Azadeh?

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: Right, so, you know, from the beginning, there was definitely a strong push by the business community. You know, they especially had concerns about E-Verify. E-Verify is a federal database that is ridden with errors, and the errors have been shown to affect people with lawful status, including U.S. citizens. But, you know, as you mentioned, were — because of this strong push, you know, the law was modified slightly to appease their concerns. But obviously, the problematic provisions in regards to the “show me your papers” provision, the provisions that criminalize giving a ride to an undocumented friend and, you know, other provisions that affect immigrant communities and communities of color in our state, remain intact.

AMY GOODMAN: Seth Freed Wessler, can you put this in a national context? You’ve been reporting on this for ColorLines.

SETH FREED WESSLER: Yeah, you know, in the year since SB 1070 passed in Arizona, almost half of the states in the country have pushed similar pieces of legislation. Twenty-four state legislatures introduced legislation around the country that looked very similar to SB 1070 in Arizona. The reality is that in many of those states these bills are failing to move forward or are dying before the sessions end, and we’re now looking at a small handful of states where SB-1070-like bills could in fact pass. So, while there are 13 states that still have bills pending in the state legislatures, there are really only four or five states where bills could pass elsewhere. So, that’s South Carolina, Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama. There’s still a hot fight in Florida. The reality is that in many — in many states, a coalition of civil rights, immigrant rights groups and also business groups have come together to push back really strongly against these pieces of legislation. In many places, they’re dying. Now, all eyes move to a set of states, a small set of states, where they still have some chance of passing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Seth, about the history of racial profiling in Georgia?

SETH FREED WESSLER: Yeah. I mean, there’s — one of the things that I think is really important to note, in Georgia, and also in Arizona, where the bill has been blocked by a lower court, which was then upheld last week by a higher court, even without SB 1070, even without these sorts of bills, racial profiling, the targeting of immigrant communities, is deep and thick. Immigrant communities are facing a kind of harassment, a sort of terrorizing atmosphere, even without these pieces of legislation. So, in Arizona, in Florida, where I was just traveling, and in Georgia, immigrants are being picked up en masse, detained and deported.

I met a man, actually, just over the border in the state of Sonora in Mexico, who had come to the United States when he was two years old. He’s now 24. And he was picked up in Phoenix as he was working in his tattoo parlor. The sheriffs barged into his place of employment, picked him up, and he was deported. He knows nobody in Mexico.

I met a woman in Florida who called the police to report domestic violence, and instead of responding to that domestic violence call, she was picked up because she’s undocumented. She was detained. She now has a deportation order.

So, the point here is that, even without these bills, even if these bills are blocked, the federal government is continuing to move forward with a policy of mass deportation.

AMY GOODMAN: Azadeh, we just have ten seconds, but you’re planning a legal challenge in Georgia to stop this bill?

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: Well, at this point, you know, still all eyes are on the governor. You know, we continue to push and urge the governor to veto this unconstitutional measure, and we continue to actively monitor the situation and examine all of our options.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Azadeh Shahshahani, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. And thank you very much, Seth Freed Wessler, senior research associate at Applied Research Center, investigative reporter for ColorLines.com. Thank you.

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