One year has passed since the signing into law of Georgia's racial profiling law, House Bill 87. Although parts of HB 87 were temporarily enjoined as a result of the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations, the law's harmful effects are already being felt across Georgia.
Immigrants and people of color feel increasingly targeted by racial profiling and abusive policing practices, as they conveyed to the ACLU Foundation of Georgia through a series of forums around the state in the summer and fall of 2011.
Like the Arizona "show me your papers" legislation that inspired it, HB 87 effectively compels all people in the state of Georgia, citizens and noncitizens alike, to carry identification documents on them at all times -- anyone who is believed by a police officer to have committed even a minor infraction is at risk of being asked to provide proof of their citizenship or immigration status. These are tactics associated with a police state, not a free country.
The law also promotes racial profiling by giving police officers discretion in both determining what information is "sufficient" to prove a person's identity and in choosing whom to subject to an investigation of immigration status among those whose identity cannot be verified. This will inevitably lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds "foreign."
Through inviting the racial profiling of Latinos and other people of color, the law violates the 14th Amendment's guarantees of equal protection and due process.
As a result of the passage of this racial profiling legislation, Georgia has suffered reputational harm. At least two organizations, the U.S. Human Rights Network and the American Educational Research Association, have moved their conventions elsewhere.
Georgia's largest industry is also suffering. Farmers who relied on the immigrant workforce are in trouble, whether or not they ever hired undocumented workers. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association estimates that as a result of HB 87, Georgia's economy may lose $391 million and 3,260 jobs. One such job in the agricultural community may support as many as three "upstream" jobs. Other estimates have put the economic loss for Georgia farmers at between $300 million and $1 billion. Thousands of acres of onions, cotton, melons, and other crops have not been harvested due to an acute labor shortage that is a direct result of HB 87. Additionally, a switch from crops harvested by hand to crops harvested by machine will cost a farm up to $1.2 million due to the difference in the value of such crops. Every person in Georgia who farms, transports or sells farm produce, runs a business that depends on the patronage of farmers or buys groceries will feel the impact of this law. As an editorial in the Valdosta Daily Times noted:
Maybe this should have been prepared for, with farmers' input. Maybe the state should have discussed the ramifications with those directly affected. Maybe the immigration issue is not as easy as 'send them home,' but is a far more complex one in that maybe Georgia needs them, relies on them, and cannot successfully support the state's No. 1 economic engine without them.
The hard-earned tax money of Georgia's residents has also been spent on efforts to defend this wasteful and harmful anti-immigrant legislation. According to records obtained by the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, between June 2011 and December 2011 the amount of time spent by nine employees with the office of the state Attorney General in connection with the HB 87 litigation was over 868 hours.
In light of the disastrous impact of this racial profiling legislation on Georgia's reputation and economy, the Georgia legislature must repeal HB 87.
The above article was originally published in JURIST (jurist.org), a publication of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Original source is available at http://jurist.org/hotline/2012/05/azadeh-shahshahani-georgia-hb87.php. The article was prepared for publication by Leah Sell, an associate editor for JURIST's professional commentary service. [Opinions expressed in JURIST's Hotline are the sole responsibility of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, or the University of Pittsburgh.]
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