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By: Kelly E. Moul
While Washington continues to debate immigration reform, Governor Nathan Deal recently signed HB 160 into law. The signing was completed quietly and without public comment, but still stands as a meaningful extension of Georgia’s current immigration regulations.
Below is a breakdown of the changes made by HB 160, which are slated to take effect in less than a month, on July 1, 2013.
Section 1 expands the E-Verify requirements of Georgia’s prior immigration bill, HB 87, by modifying the definition of “contractor” to include every subcontractor, with the exception of attorneys. This provision means that any private business which contracts with a state contractor will now be subject to the state’s mandatory E-Verify requirement, even if they have fewer than eleven employees.
Section 2 grants authority to the Immigration Enforcement Review Board (IERB) to make Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) strict “IMAGE” program a requirement for Georgia employers.
While IERB has been relatively inactive since its inception via HB 87, even the theoretical power to enforce IMAGE on Georgia employers would represent a major shift in the law.
Section 6 eliminates the Federal and Georgia’s Attorney General’s definitions of “Public Benefits” and replaces it with “Public Benefits” Grants, Public and Assisted Housing, Retirement Benefits, and State Driver Licenses. The intent is to bar undocumented foreign nationals from obtaining government services and welfare benefits.
Section 7 restricts the use of foreign passports without an accompanying Form I-94 proof of lawful status. This provision will make it more difficult for undocumented foreign nationals to obtain welfare benefits, and to enroll their children in public school.
Section 8 mandates creation of a new immigration compliance system. This mandate, however, is completely unfunded and thus unlikely to be enforced.
As noted by several commentators, this law passed hastily at the end of Georgia’s legislative session and is poorly drafted. For instance, the bill repeals all prior laws, but does not state specifically what laws are being repealed.
HB 160 also confuses the legal terms “lawful immigration status” and “lawful presence,” which are two very discrete issues in federal immigration law. The bill also treats the acceptance of a passport differently than the federal government.
HB 160 likewise lacks a severability clause. Without such a clause, if any part of HB 160 is declared unconstitutional, the entire law could be struck down.
As with HB 87, both immigration rights groups and business leaders have threatened litigation to prevent HB 160 from taking effect on July 1. We will provide further updates as the situation unfolds.