Stopping State Bills that Attack Immigrants – A How-To from Georgia


Last month, SB 452 was introduced and moved through the Georgia Senate in under a week. It was a terrible bill that would have mandated local law enforcement officials, prosecuting attorneys, and judges to take on the role of enforcing immigration law, make determinations about people’s legal immigration status without any immigration law expertise, and detain people for longer periods of time than the law or Constitution allows so that ICE can take the person into federal custody. Local law enforcement should be protecting us not serving as immigration officers. The repercussions of such actions would decimate the trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. SB 452 infringed on due process and the 4th amendment’s protection from illegal seizure.  The bill also came with a tremendous price tag, potentially millions of dollars that Georgians would have to shoulder.

When it got to the House, there was no time to waste. The Georgia-Alabama (GA/AL) Chapter quickly organized internally and with other coalition members. We wrote a press statement and talking points about the bill, and focused on what we know best – immigration law. AILA National communications staff edited the statement and helped get it out to press so we were quoted in local and national news standing up against this terrible piece of legislation. We gave examples of the complexity and reality of immigration law. How would the police verify someone’s legal status? We know that a green card may expire, but status does not – but does every police officer know that? What about Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that have automatic extensions, do they even know what an EAD is? What about people who derive U.S. citizenship – how would a magistrate judge, forced to determine legal status, be able to accomplish that quickly in open court?

Over the past 18 months, new coalitions and friendships have blossomed. From fighting the travel ban to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal drives, the GA/AL AILA chapter has forged alliances with faith-based groups, universities, pro bono partners at large law firms, health care providers, criminal defense attorneys, and many others. To fight against this bill, the GA/AL chapter joined our coalition partners in an impactful sign-on letter sounding the alarm on this divisive bill. Having a variety of voices in the campaign against SB 452 made it possible to highlight the problems in the bill that went beyond immigration law. Our broad coalition was able to attack SB 452 from every angle and fight back against every argument its supporters made.

But, you must know that we didn’t just stop there – our members testified before the House Committee, attended rallies, called their representatives, and educated their friends and colleagues about SB 452. AILA members were tireless. Yet, we were certainly not alone. The energy, expertise, knowledge, and passion from our new partners (and our tried and true allies – let’s not forget them!) allowed us to claim victory. People don’t have to be immigration lawyers to realize that an attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us and our identity as Americans. It is important to keep this powerful momentum bulldozing full steam ahead. Whether we’re advocating with Congress on big picture issues at National Day of Action, or organizing locally in our towns and states, we need to stand together and stand up for smart, fair, and just immigration law and policy.

by Tracie Klinke