Progressive groups say passage of a slate of “anti-immigrant” legislation will keep economic opportunities from coming to Georgia. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Groups decry ‘anti-immigrant’ proposals at Georgia Legislature

Liberal groups say support for anti-immigrant legislation could hurt Georgia’s chances of landing Amazon’s coveted second headquarters.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies denounced a handful of bills being pursued in the General Assembly.

A trio of proposed measures would declare English as the official state language in the Georgia Constitution, require that driver’s licenses for non-U.S. citizens be printed differently and impose a new fee on money transferred using out-of-state wire services.

Christopher Bruce, policy counsel with the ACLU of Georgia, called the proposals a “betrayal” of the country’s “fundamental principals and values.” He said acting on the proposals would keep businesses from coming to Georgia.

“The proposed bills that my colleagues and I are discussing here today are un-American and would negatively impact Georgia’s economy, wipe out opportunities for our state to attract potential economic powerhouses like Amazon and betray the strong bonds we have with our family members, neighbors, co-workers and employees from around the world who now call Georgia home,” he said.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said those opposed to his proposal — Senate Resolution 587, which would make English the state’s official language — are using the prospect of Amazon coming to Georgia as a way to attack things they don’t like.

“I think that’s become the go-to tool for people that want to oppose legislation — to say it’s going to hurt economic development in that way even when there’s zero evidence of it,” he said.

McKoon’s resolution received initial approval in a Senate panel earlier this week, the day after state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, filed an identical proposal, Senate Resolution 613. Both men are running for statewide office, McKoon for secretary of state and Shafer for lieutenant governor.

If either measure is approved, Georgians would decide whether the state should amend its constitution to declare English the official language, which would also prohibit state business from being conducted in any other language.

Democratic senators took to the floor Thursday to echo the concerns voiced by the ACLU.

“The reality is that these proposals, even if they never pass out of our chamber or the General Assembly, hurt Georgia economically,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, noting that news of the legislation had appeared in The Seattle Times, where Amazon is headquartered.

“Divisive posturing on this issue is bad for the public perception of our state. … We’re fooling ourselves if we think people aren’t paying attention to controversial issues that we introduce,” Parent said.

The Senate passed a similar resolution in 2016.

“This isn’t infringing anybody’s individual right,” state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, said before a panel gave McKoon’s proposal initial approval. “That’s the bottom line — government should do business in the official language of this country.”

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