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Georgia's Anti-Education Legislature and SB 458 -- What Are They Doing in The Name of Anti-Immigration Fervor?

The Georgia State Senate acted recently to pass an anti-immigration measure aimed at stopping 300 Georgia residents who happen to not have legal status from attending public colleges and universities in Georgia, despite the fact that they are paying out-of-state tuition.  The Georgia House is moving to pass similar legislation at the behest of House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chair, Cobb County resident, and AllState Insurance Attorney Rich Gollick.


The rationale behind this bill (besides the red herring argument that local governments needed clarification on whether they could accept electronic copies of "secure and verifiable documents"), is that the undocumented students are somehow using taxpayer dollars and taking spots from U.S. citizens.  You heard these arguments from all the sponsors of this bill in the Senate.  These reasons for supporting this bill are not based in either reality or facts.  In Georgia, no undocumented student can go to a Georgia state college or university that refuses admission to qualified U.S. citizens. That means that there are NO undocumented students at UGA, Georgia Tech, GSU, Georgia State College, or Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly the Medical College of Georgia).  So, the FACT is that no undocumented student is taking a spot from another U.S. citizen who is a qualified applicant for that Georgia college.  

The other rationale for supporting this bill is that undocumented students are using taxpayer money to attend Georgia colleges. Again, this is false.  Under rules passed last year by the State Board of Regents, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition (even though virtually all of them grew up and reside in Georgia). The actual cost of the education provided is LESS than the cost of out-of-state tuition, which means that undocumented students actually help FUND the education costs of U.S. citizens!  These students are not costing the state any money, they are GIVING money to Georgia.

Finally, let's not forget we are talking about 300 young men and young women, with the courage, fortitude and focus to push forward in the face of overwhelming odds. These are NOT the children from whom we should be stealing hope. These are the children we should be applauding.  Some desperately argue that "why are these kids going to school?  They cannot work upon graduation."  Not true! These kids might then qualify for a work visa, which they could obtain, along with a waiver under immigration law, after leaving the U.S. and return and work here.  Further, these bright, dedicated, and visionary students could also decide to leave the U.S. with their education for better opportunities elsewhere, like many of the foreign students already enrolled in our Georgia colleges.  


But, the facts are not important when dealing with the Georgia State Legislature.  Senate Bill 458 was the focus of a great deal of rhetoric from the usual crowd of anti-immigration Senators, such as Senator Chip Rogers and Senator Barry Loudermilk, the two chief sponsors of this legislation.  In one picture taken while Senator Rogers was testifying in favor of SB 458, it is clear who has his back--Georgia's own self-styled leader of the anti-immigration movement, Donald King.  

After a great deal of debate, and apparently a lot of second thoughts on behalf of some rational Republicans in the State Senate, SB 458 passed along a party line vote, 34-19.  However, it appears that many of those voting had not actually read the language of the bill they voted one.  A review of SB 458 shows that it is not altogether clear exactly what this bill might now do, and in fact it has many more consequences that just blocking access to Georgia colleges for qualified undocumented students.  To paraphrase the words of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride:  "I do not think that the Bill means what you think it means."  


The current version of SB 458 reads, as virtually all legislation does, like Greek to most folks.  The key to understanding any piece of legislation in process it so look for the crossed out or underlined words.  Section 1 of SB 458 has a key amendment to Georgia Code Section 50-36-1, in the definition of "Public Benefit."  "Public Benefit is changed to be any public benefit "whether or not such benefit is subsidized by state or federal funds."  Each of the then previously listed items remained, such as adult education, authorization to conduct a commercial enterprise or business (business license), a business loan, health benefits, registration of a regulated business, rent assistance or subsidy, state grant or loan, State ID card, Tax certificate required to conduct a commercial business, temporary assistance for needy families, unemployment insurance and welfare to work.  The new item added appears to be "professional licenses."   All "Public Benefits" applicants will now have to go through the USCIS SAVE system to verify immigration status, before the state political entity can issue whatever benefit is requested.  


Section 1 then requires the Attorney General to give a report by August 1 each year on WHAT is actually included in the Public Benefits listed in the statute, specifically forbidding Attorney General Olens from removing anything from the list, only allowing him to ADD things to the list.  So, it appears the state legislature is telling the Attorney General to figure out what each of the Public Benefits actually include. Attorney General Sam Olens will have to decide if "Adult Education" actually includes post-secondary education in Georgia.  What is Adult Education?  Who knows, it is not defined in Georgia Law.  If the Attorney General does not include post-secondary education" in his definition, then presumably Donald King can file a complaint against the Attorney General with the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board for not enforcing immigration related laws in Georgia.  Why would Senator Chip Rogers want to do this to Attorney General Sam Olens?  Maybe someone should ask him.

Section 1 also struck from another section of that same statute, the section which specifically stated that Verification of Lawful Presence was NOT required for Post-Secondary Education .   Presumably by striking this exemption, the State Senate is trying to send a message to the Attorney General that Adult Education does include Post-Secondary Education.  Another argument is that by striking the words "Post-Secondary Education" from the exemption, the State Senate is saying that it is not even necessary to consider post-secondary education as a public benefit, and thus the Board of Regents has complete authority to determine whether an undocumented student can attend a Georgia college.  Again, a rather vague, and unclear reference in the context of the larger bill.

The next key part of SB 458 adds the requirement that each applicant for ANY public benefit must submit a "secure and verifiable document," AND sign a sworn affidavit verifying their lawful presence in the U.S.  This creates an entire new level of bureaucracy in every layer of Georgia's government that deals with the public and provides benefits. Inarguably, it is an unnecessary requirement that will increase the costs of doing business with the state, lead to higher taxes, and does nothing to curtail the provision of services to those not authorized to receive it.  The next simple step is just to make all Georgians carry a State ID card.   Much like with HB 87, the Georgia State Senate did not have, introduce, or require a report on whether or not such a new regulatory requirement would COST the state or save the state money. If these effects are like anything done by HB 87, they will COST the state money!


In Section 2, SB 458 struck from the secure and verifiable document list any foreign passport, unless that passport also includes a valid I-94 or I-94A, or "other federal document specify an alien's lawful immigration status." Obviously, the State Senate did not like Attorney General Olens' list! That is too bad, because the list was rationale, well thought out, and, under the circumstances, the best interpretation of the law.  There is no reason that a foreign passport (which the federal government accepts for a valid id for ALL purposes without an I-94 card), cannot be relied upon as a secure and verifiable document for identity purposes.  

Finally, Section 2 makes clear (and is the only legitimate reason for SB 458) that electronic copies of a secure and verifiable document are sufficient for purposes of Georgia law.  Frankly, everything else in this legislation should be struck, and this provision should be all that remains of SB 458. It would pass unanimously.   


Here is the language of a clean bill:

Copies of secure and verifiable documents submitted in person, by mail, or electronically shall satisfy the definition of 'secure and verifiable document' in this chapter.  For purposes of this paragraph, electronic submission includes a submission via facsimile, Internet, electronic texting, or any other electronically assisted transmission."

If passed by the House, these provisions of SB 458 would be Georgia law on July 1, 2012.  


By amending Georgia law with these items, Georgia is attempting to do what Alabama has done, interfere with the constitutional right of contract with the state and insert a requirement that every person dealing with the state for ANY reason prove that they are in the U.S. legally.  Like the new voter ID requirements, these provisions are not only aimed and targeted against the undocumented population, but will negatively impact the poor and minorities in ways that can only be described as intentional.  The 11th Circuit Court of appeals just stayed  a similar provision in the Alabama Anti-Immigration law, with the clear message that it would find this law unconstitutional if the Supreme Court does not overrule the Arizona Anti-Immigration Law current set for oral argument before the Supreme Court on April 25.  

One can only conclude that Senator Chip Rogers and Donald King want the Georgia Legislature to once again step into the quagmire of a federal lawsuit challenging another state anti-immigration statute.  I cannot believe they really want to go through this again.  


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