March 27, 2013
The ACLU of Georgia National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project is celebrating its fifth anniversary! Founded in March 2008, the project works to bring Georgia into compliance with international human rights and U.S. constitutional standards in treatment of refugees and immigrant communities, including those in detention. This project engages ACLU of Georgia staff and volunteers in litigation, legislative advocacy, human rights documentation, coalition-building, public education, attorney training, and community organizing to address a range of issues. Here you can find a few of our accomplishments over the past five years.
March 27, 2013
Two years ago, Georgia passed one of the most stringent immigration laws in the country, House Bill 87. Both supporters and opponents of the bill now agree that it has a major flaw which needs to be fixed quickly. As written, the law subjects U.S. citizens renewing a professional license to months of delay, costing many of them their jobs and livelihood.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle wisely pledged to work together to do away with this unacceptable consequence. Straightforward, fix-it bills were introduced in the state House and Senate. Unfortunately, a few legislators have made last-minute changes to one of the bills, sending it in a completely different direction. Their amendments threaten to embroil Georgia into another protracted and rancorous debate over provisions similar to the one that prompted a fix in the first place.
The amended bill would make it a crime for state and local government officials to accept any foreign passport as proof of identification unless the passport is accompanied by proof of legal immigration status. This, even though a passport is the most secure form of ID issued by an individual's country of citizenship and one that's accepted by the federal TSA for airplane travel, where security is paramount. It defies common sense to make it a crime for government workers to accept foreign passports as proof that a person is who they say they are.
Although the consequences of this provision may not be readily apparent, it could bar immigrants from obtaining marriage certificates in counties such as Fulton where a foreign passport is readily accepted as ID for this transaction, and prevent children of immigrants from attending public schools to the extent that the schools require proof of ID for enrollment.
Another of the amendments could make it impossible for some lawfully present immigrants including young people granted deferred action from deportation and individuals granted reprieve from natural disasters and war to obtain driver's licenses.
Besides the harm to individuals, the amendments would impose an unfair burden on local governments across Georgia.
These changes inject chaos into an otherwise sensible proposal. Let's get back to making common sense, constructive change. Legislators and the governor can do that, by supporting the original fix-it bills that lawmakers crafted to address a problem they agreed needed attention.
You can read the article at the Daily Report here.
March 20, 2013
ATLANTA — On March 21, 2013 at 10:00 a.m., Georgia-based human rights and faith groups will host a press conference in front of the State Capitol to call on legislators to reject legislation that promises to embroil Georgia in further controversy and reputational harm. If passed in its current form, HB 125 will have a similar effect as some of the worst provisions in Alabama’s law by denying many immigrants access to utilities, marriage certificates, and municipal buildings requiring ID. The groups will call on the legislature to instead act on its original intent and pass sensible legislation to alleviate some of the burdens imposed by HB 87.
Press conference to announce human rights and faith groups’ unified opposition to anti-immigrant legislation pending at the Georgia legislature.
Nan Orrock, State Senator
Pedro Marin, State Representative
Rev. Gregory Williams, Lead Pastor, The Power Church
Adelina Nicholls, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU Foundation of Georgia
Miriam Zuniga, Freedom University
Everitt Howe, Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment
PJ Edwards, Travelers Together immigration education and advocacy ministry
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Outside the Georgia State Capitol, Washington Street side
March 14, 2013
Azadeh Shahshahani, 34
Human Rights Lawyer, Georgia
Azadeh Shahshahani has been a prominent human rights advocate in the South for eight years. Currently the director of national security and immigrant rights at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter, Shahshahani, 34, remains at the forefront of several campaigns to help those who often do not have a voice within the state’s and nation’s legal framework.
Shahshahani was among those who led the fight against HB 87, a Georgia law that closely mirrors the Arizona immigration law, enabling local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone believed to have committed even a minor infraction. The law passed in 2011 but her work led to a federal court blocking other parts of the law, including a provision that makes it a crime for anyone to transport or harbor an undocumented immigrant. In the last year, Shahshahani has run over 15 forums in rural Georgia, teaching immigrants about their rights if they get stopped by police.
Much of Shahshahani’s work has also focused on prisoner’s rights. She authored a report in May 2012 detailing poor conditions in the privately run prisons used to detain undocumented immigrants. Most of the problems revolved around abysmal medical care for sick or injured prisoners. Shahshahani has written prolifically in print media and given TV interviews on the need for immigration authorities to stop using private companies to run prisons. These private firms are “committed to generating money for their investors,” she said.
March 14, 2013
The ACLU of Georgia has sent letters to Sheriffs across the state about ICE detainers and section 8 of HB 87 (also known as “show me your papers”) advising them about how Georgia’s local law enforcement detention practices may be violating individuals’ constitutional rights
You can read the letter here.
March 13, 2013
By Martha Dalton
When Georgia’s immigration law, known [previously] as HB 87, took effect in 2011, some medical professionals had to provide proof of citizenship before renewing their state-issued licenses. That caused a backlog at some state offices and frustration among professionals. Lawmakers drafted House Bill 125 to fix that, according to Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney for the ACLU’s Georgia chapter.
“Then all of a sudden, the version that passed the House committee and the version that passed the House floor included these additional provisions we have concerns with,” Shahshahani says.
Shahshahani says one provision would not allow the use of foreign passports as a form of identification, unless accompanied by certain federal documentation.
“Right now, a foreign passport is the only document that an undocumented immigrant can use to prove their identity for a variety of official transactions,” she says.
Shahshahani says the provision could prevent some illegal immigrants from enrolling their children in school or getting their utilities turned on. But Dustin Inman Society president DA King says discouraging illegal activity is the point.
“We’re trying to change the passport acceptance so that we are more efficiently protecting jobs, benefits, and services," King says, "Accepting a passport without the proper entrance stamps from a non-citizen is counterproductive to achieving our goals.”
The second provision would add state-issued drivers’ licenses to the list of public benefits undocumented immigrants can’t receive under Georgia law.
Shahshahani says the provision could affect people who are legally granted Temporary Protected Status to live and work in the U.S. However, King says, it’s unclear whether that provision will make it in the final version of the bill. The legislation has passed the House and now heads to the Senate.
March 09, 2013
By KATE BRUMBACK
The Associated Press
Some quiet changes to a bill that was intended as a simple fix for unintended consequences of a 2011 crackdown on illegal immigration have turned the bill that originally had pretty universal support into a rallying point for activists on all sides of the immigration issue.
The bill sponsored by state Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton, was presented as a solution to complaints from several state agencies that Georgia's 2011 law was creating extra work and delays in processing public benefits, including professional licenses.
But the amended bill passed by the House Monday would effectively deny driver's licenses to young people who were brought here illegally as children and who have been granted temporary permission to stay and work here under an Obama administration initiative. It also would bar illegal immigrants from being able to get a marriage license or access water and sewage services in the state.
Though the amendments would affect relatively few people, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is quickly organizing efforts to protest the bill.
"All of a sudden, we're confronted with all of these damaging changes," the ACLU's Azadeh Shahshahani said. "These are all additional complications and burdens that we don't need."
The Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for stronger laws targeting illegal immigration and stricter enforcement of existing laws, sent out an email blast to supporters urging them to call their lawmakers to tell them to keep Hightower's bill intact and to defeat a more limited Senate version of the bill.
Though Hightower says he didn't initially realize the potential effects of the changes, he hasn't said whether he intends to take them out. He said the additions to his bill weren't meant to dupe anyone, that they were intended to streamline the legislative process.
"The original intent of this bill was to be something to facilitate people obtaining and keeping a professional license in a much easier fashion," he said, adding that it was also meant to preserve taxpayer-funded public benefits for U.S. citizens and other eligible legal residents.
Georgia's 2011 law targeting illegal immigration requires anyone applying for or renewing public benefits — like professional licenses, welfare and unemployment benefits — to provide a "secure and verifiable" document proving their U.S. citizenship or legal presence in the country.
People in the country illegally have long been ineligible for Georgia driver's licenses. But after the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program took effect in August, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens declared that those with deferred status could get a temporary driver's license.
However, the advisory opinion Olens issued at Gov. Nathan Deal's request seems to indicate that those in the federal program are not eligible for state identity cards, because those IDs are subject to the law governing public benefits. The pending legislation adds "state issued driver's licenses" to the list of public benefits.
Hightower said he didn't know whether his bill denies driver's licenses to those granted deferred action, and said that wasn't his specific intent. But he didn't say if that was something he'd be in favor of or if he'd reconsider the addition of driver's licenses to the list of public benefits.
The 2011 law charged the state attorney general's office with creating a list of documents that government agencies could accept if they require identification for an official purpose. The list currently includes foreign passports, the only document on the list that those in the country illegally would be able to obtain legitimately.
By removing foreign passports from the list unless they're accompanied by federal immigrationdocumentation, the new bill would technically prevent illegal immigrants from getting a marriage license in Georgia or from accessing water and sewage service in the many municipalities that require identification to turn on service.
Hightower said the possibility of preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses and access to water and sewer services was not intentional. Since being made aware of that issue, he's looking at what can be done to resolve it, he said.
Copyright The Associated Press
March 06, 2013
The ACLU Foundation of Georgia has sent a letter to the Board of Regents asking that they end the application of Policy 4.1.6. (ban on attendance of selective colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia) to young immigrants granted deferred action under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The letter also asks that the Regents issue new guidance recognizing that DACA recipients are “lawfully present” under federal immigration law and thus eligible to seek admission to Georgia’s competitive postsecondary institutions. Portions of the letter were read today by student organizers at the rally against the ban in Athens.
The letter and exhibits can be viewed here:
March 06, 2013
HB 125, the bill that was supposed to offer a fix to HB 87, but instead inserted damaging and cumbersome provisions making immigrants' lives in the state much more difficult, has passed the Georgia House. The provisions excluding foreign passports from the list of “secure and verifiable” documents and adding driver’s licenses to the list of “public benefits” threaten to overshadow the other reforms and push Georgia in the opposite direction, injecting new controversy, potential litigation, and reputational harm. For more on this bill, see our fact sheet.
February 28, 2013
Immigration advocates say detainees have been released from the North Georgia detention center, the Irwin County detention center and the Stewart detention center in south Georgia.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that hundreds of non-violent detainees and those who don’t pose a flight risk would be granted supervised release across the country. ICE says that’s due to anticipated cuts from sequestration. A Georgia ICE official could only confirm releases from the Stewart facility.
Azadeh Shahshahani with the Georgia ACLU says we can no longer afford immigration prisons for people who are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
“It is about 122 dollars to 164 dollars per detainee per day. Whereas if we relied on more alternatives to detention, that would cost from 30 cents to 14 dollars a day.” she says.
ICE officials confirm those figures, but say the deportation process increases from 45 days if someone is in a detention facility to as long as 2 years if the person is under supervision.
Shahshahani says even the government admits supervision rather than detention is a better way to go.
She says “The Department of Homeland Security has itself told Congress that alternatives to detention are a cost-effective alternative to secure detention of immigrants in removal proceedings. And the Department of Homeland Security’s own alternative to detention program has ensured that 94 percent of people appear for their immigration hearings.”
ICE officials say the supervision can range from requiring immigrants to wear ankle monitors to having them check in with ICE officials once a week.
11th district Georgia Congressman Phil Gingery released this statement regarding the detainee releases:
"Despite President Obama’s attempts to rewrite history, this is his sequester. And now, rather than governing, he is waging a nation-wide public relations campaign warning against his very idea. The bottom line is it’s the spending cuts—not necessarily the sequester itself—that must be implemented. House Republicans have already acted, voting twice to replace it with common-sense reforms that reduce spending while protecting the DoD from being disproportionately impacted. Identifying and eliminating wasteful or duplicative programs and services within DHS and other government agencies would cut spending without hollowing out our military. "
"For instance, according to a recent report, DHS paid for an underwater robot in a Midwest city with no major rivers or lakes nearby, a hog catcher in rural Texas and a fish tank in a small Texas town. The report also found the department has no way of tracking how grant money is spent and has not produced adequate measures to gauge what states and communities actually need. Rather than releasing detainees, government agencies must focus on cutting spending and enacting reforms in wasteful areas such as these."
9th District Congressman Doug Collins also criticized the Obama administration. He released this statement:
“Unfortunately, this type of dangerous behavior has become the status quo from President Obama. It’s disheartening to know the leader of the greatest country in the world would rather play futile political games to advance his tax and spend agenda than protect innocent Americans. These actions are a cowardly and careless; and moreover, they undermine the work the House Judiciary Committee is doing in regards to immigration reform. President Obama should be ashamed of himself for choosing political expediency over the safety of the American people.”