Dispatches from Georgia: Southern Hospitality, HB 87-style

Guest Blogger • Aug 25, 2011

by Catharine Debelle

A delegation of students and activists were in Atlanta for a week to document efforts to resist anti-immigrant law H.B. 87. The delegation members will be sharing first-hand accounts of their experiences with dispatches. Visit Imagine 2050 regularly for more Dispatches from Georgia.

By far the most distinguishing feature of Georgia is its southern hospitality. Whether giving ones neighbor a ride home from work after a long day or inviting a weary traveler in to take a rest and have a home-cooked meal.

However, with the passing of H.B. 87, Georgians and all other states that choose to follow in its footsteps might have to think twice before helping out their fellow man.  Right now Georgia law authorizes police to demand “papers” signifying citizenship or immigration status at any traffic stop or when pulled over by police.

The law criminalizes anyone who interacts daily with undocumented individuals by preventing them from giving those individuals rides or inviting them into their homes. Finally, it makes it difficult for individuals without specific identification documents to access state facilities and services.

Recently, the ACLU, along with other civil rights organizations, filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia on grounds that H.B. 87 is unconstitutional.

“We brought a lawsuit. Sections of the law criminalize acts of faith and comradely,” says Azadeh Shahshahani of the Georgia chapter of the ACLU. “Before giving a friend a ride or hosting someone for dinner you shouldn’t have to ask for their immigration papers, thankfully our lawsuit was heard and the judge blocked two provisions of the law.”

The lawsuit charges HB 87 as unconstitutional because it unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; authorizes unreasonable seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment; restricts the constitutional right to travel freely throughout the United States; and violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution by unlawfully discriminating against people who hold certain kinds of identity documents.

Unfortunately the state has now appealed the judge’s ruling to the court of appeal, so we will see what happens in the next legislative sessions.

Since there are currently no anti-racial profiling measures within Georgian law, many organizations are pulling together know-your- rights campaigns in an effort to inform all citizens and undocumented peoples about their rights in the US as well as their basic human rights.

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the professional bar association for attorneys who specialize in general immigration law.  AILA primarily works with professional lawyers who volunteer their time to work on immigration cases in their local communities. Recently AILA began AILA DREAM Defenders (AD2), a national pro bono program to support young adults who would benefit from the DREAM Act if it were signed into law.

AILA also works with GALEO to sponsor Citizenship Days, a single-day workshop with sites around the country providing assistance with US citizenship application process and offering attendees the opportunity to take a free Citizenship Interview Test (CIT).

“Anti-immigrants are trying to create a division in unity among communities, and our biggest barrier is rhetoric and public misunderstanding” says Aimee Todd AILA representative.

The ACLU along with other civil rights organizations like GLAHR have also created forums across different communities to start know-your-rights campaigns.

“…there is a misconception that we can treat undocumented workers any way we want,” says Azadeh Shahshahani.  “And that is untrue and against our Constitution regardless of their status. Besides everyone is entitled to human dignity”

It is up to the people to continue to hold the government accountable to both international human rights agreements and our own Constitution. The best thing to do is to stay informed and involved in the debate.

“We are in a crisis,” says Aimee Todd, “we have been told and told to wait, and people simply cannot wait anymore.”

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