Georgia is the latest state to consider legislation that could sanction discrimination in the name of religious freedom.
There are two versions of the Georgia bill – a state House version, HB 1023, and a state Senate version, SB 377. Both would affirm the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.” Where those beliefs conflict with local, state or federal law, the government would have to prove that the law is meant to pursue a “a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
Following the Federal District Court’s order today in Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, et al. v. Deal, et al., a coalition of civil rights groups announced the next steps in their effort to dismantle the state’s anti-immigrant law, HB 87. Significant parts of the law have been blocked by the courtsbut one provision remains that allows police officers to ask the federal government to verify the immigration status of individuals who are lawfully detained on state-law grounds. It does not allow for stops, arrests or even extending detention just for immigration verification. Today’s order holds that challenges to that provision’s implementation must be brought in other suits, rather than the original case that the coalition filed before HB 87’s effective date in 2011.
Human rights advocates across the country and in Georgia are calling upon their Congressional representatives to vote in favor of an amendment proposed by Rep. Polis (D-CO) that would right grave wrongs in the current House appropriations bill.
This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the country's 2014 budget with allocations that directly impact both the safety and civil rights of Georgia residents. As currently proposed, the budget will provide an additional $44 million dollars above the White House's requested amount for the 287(g) program that enlists local police as immigration officers and has been active in Cobb, Gwinnett, Whitfield, and Dalton for several years. The program has had devastating consequences, including diminished community trust in the police, as documented by the ACLU of Georgia in reports on Cobb and Gwinnett.
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.
By blocking Georgia’s attempts to criminalize acts of hospitality, faith, and conscience, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a decision that affects the daily lives of many people in Georgia.
One of these is Everitt Howe, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, a caseworker for his church’s community service program. Howe regularly accompanies and drives families and individuals, including those who are undocumented, to hospital visits or other appointments. He fears that could be found criminally liable. Because of people like Howe, we are pleased the court blocked this fundamentally un-American provision.
The ruling was issued pursuant to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations charging that the extreme law endangers public safety, invites racial profiling of people of color and others who look or sound “foreign,” and interferes with federal law. The court’s ruling made it clear that the state cannot put into effect policies that could interfere with the federal government’s regulation of immigration. The court struck down the provision criminalizing daily interactions with undocumented individuals, which would have made people vulnerable to arrest and detention for acts of kindness.
Another part of the law before the court was the “show-me-your-papers” provision. The court reiterated there are limits on such laws under the Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case. It left the door open to future challenges.
HB 87 promotes racial profiling by giving police officers discretion to determine what information is “sufficient” to prove a person’s identity and choose who to subject to an investigation. This will lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds “foreign.” The statute undermines fundamental American values of fairness and equal protection.
Law enforcement leaders and police chiefs around the country have cautioned against putting local police in the position of enforcing federal immigration laws for fear it will alienate the communities endanger the public. Many immigrants will not come forward with crime information for fear they will be detained and investigated. As ACLU of Georgia investigations show, immigrant communities in Cobb and Gwinnett already fear the police. They are reluctant to report crime because of these counties’ involvement in immigration enforcement. This has led to an atmosphere of terror and isolation for immigrants and less-safe communities.
Take the 2009 case of a woman who called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. Cobb County officers relied on the abuser’s account of what happened, as she spoke little English. Her abuser’s side of the story was far from honest. She was separated from her infant daughter, spent five days in jail and was placed in deportation.
The ACLU and our partner organizations will forge ahead until unconstitutional provisions of HB 87 are struck down – or until this racial profiling law is repealed in its entirety.
The ACLU Foundation of Georgia, in conjunction with other civil liberties and community organizations, recently sent a letter to Apple regarding allegations that customers have twice been denied the right to purchase merchandise in their stores in suburban Atlanta on the basis of race. In both cases, the customers denied merchandise were of Iranian descent.
As the first year anniversary of the signing into law of Georgia’s House Bill 87 approaches, the ACLU Foundation of Georgia today released an updated version of Frequently Asked Questions about the Georgia Racial Profiling Law. The pamphlet includes information about the various sections of law and their implementation, the legal challenge, where the law now stands, as well as the negative impact of the law on Georgia’s economy and reputation. Download the pamphlet for more information.