August 18, 2017 Atlanta: Federal immigration authorities book Mexican national Jose Serrano into detention. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Georgia legislative panel revises immigration enforcement bill

A key Georgia legislative panel on Tuesday passed a watered-down version of an immigration enforcement measure backed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor.

As approved by the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, Senate Bill 452 no longer requires police officers to detain unauthorized immigrants and transport them to federal detention centers. Instead, the revised bill says they “may” do so.

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“Vehicle,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres /

Further, the committee inserted language requiring the state prison system to publish a report every 90 days that lists the immigration status and native countries of inmates who are not U.S. citizens.

The bill also requires Georgia courts to determine whether the defendants they are sentencing are legally in the country. If they are here without legal permission, the courts would then be required to order prosecutors to notify federal immigration authorities about them. Those requirements drew objections from several state court judges, who cited their heavy workloads as well as the complexity of federal immigration law.

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“I have a large volume that I need to handle on a morning or afternoon calendar,” DeKalb County State Court Judge Mike Jacobs said, “and I am now tasked with making a determination regarding a very nuanced and ever-changing area of the law on which our judges are not specifically trained, certainly not as to all of the aspects of it.”

Fellow DeKalb State Court Judge Dax Lopez focused on the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches, saying he is not sure if he could order prosecutors to report information to federal immigration authorities.

“So this puts us in a position,” he said, “that if I do order a solicitor to do something and they refuse to make this report to the federal agencies, that could create a certain situation where — Do I now have to have a hearing to hold my solicitor in contempt?”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Project South and immigration attorney Arturo Corso raised numerous other concerns about SB 452 during Tuesday’s committee hearing.

Ed Painter, a former Whitfield County sheriff’s deputy from Dalton, spoke in favor of the original — and more stringent — version of the bill.

“We are still providing incentives for more illegal aliens to come,” he said. “Many of the arguments I heard boil down to the fact that we should just have open borders. I don’t believe in that. I know the impact of having a flood of… immigrants that do not assimilate into our community — too many too quick. That is why I am definitely for this bill.”

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