Ga. Legislature Advances Bills Regarding Immigration

As the last day of the state legislative session approaches, the Georgia General Assembly is considering a set of proposed laws related to immigrants and immigration.

The measures include creating a special driver’s card for some immigrants without legal status who have deferred action on deportation , SB 6, and requiring those who serve on appointed boards of local governments to have U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residency, HB 781.

Another proposal, SR 675, would allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to declare English as the official language. The measure would require state documents -- with some exceptions -- to be printed only in English. 

Supporters say the measures are necessary to enforce the rule of law, and promote a common language. But several groups took to the Capitol Wednesday, arguing the measures send an unwelcoming message to Georgia's immigrant community and could be bad for business. 

Wesley Tharpe, a senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said immigrants contribute significantly to Georgia’s economy, owning nearly a third of small businesses in the state.

“Welcoming newcomers rather than alienating them through misguided, hostile policies, is essential to ensuring Georgia remains an attractive state with a strong economy and a high quality of life,” Tharpe said.

According to recent Census data, nearly 1 in 10 Georgians were born outside the United States.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, who’s sponsoring the English-only amendment proposal and driver’s license bill, said he doesn’t think the measures would be more unwelcoming for immigrants with lawful status.

He pointed to English already being the state’s official language per a 1996 law.

“Georgia’s been named the number one state to do business with on multiple occasions with the current policy that’s in place,” McKoon said.

Regarding the driver’s license proposal, he said he didn’t think his measure would offend those with lawful status, saying that KIA or Mercedes-Benz executives would, for example, have driver’s licenses that would be clearly distinguishable from those without lawful status.

The measures have until the end of the state legislative session, which is scheduled for March 24, to be approved. If they pass, they would then be sent to the governor for his signature to become law.