State and local officials in Georgia who fail to enforce the new immigration laws could be hit with up to $5,000 in fines, and their agencies could lose funding, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The penalties would take effect once the state sets up a seven-member panel that would will have broad authority to investigate complaints about the failure of an agency or public employee to check immigration status when processing applications for certain benefits, such as food stamps and business licenses, the newspaper said.
The panel is called the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, and is a requirement of Georgia’s law, House Bill 87, that seeks to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the state.
Several weeks ago, a federal judge in Atlanta blocked parts the law, including one that called for penalizing people who transport or harbor undocumented immigrants. The judge took the action in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s law.
But some parts took effect on July 1; others are scheduled to go into effect in January.
Georgia is one of several states that have passed laws aimed at discouraging undocumented immigrants from settling within their borders. The ACLU, along with other groups, has challenged each state’s law, saying that immigration is a federal matter.
Some 11 million undocumented immigrants are believed to be living in the United States; about 425,000 live in Georgia, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
“It’s costing us millions of dollars to have illegals in our country,” said Lori Pesta, president of the Republican Women of Cherokee County, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We definitely need someone to oversee this entire situation because it has gotten greatly out of hand.”
Opponents of the measure warn that Georgia’s new panel will bring more problems than solutions.
“I feel bad for the folks that are going to be targets of this [Sen. Joe] McCarthy-like panel looking for ghosts that don’t exist,” said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney and member of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, according to the newspaper. “This is the witch-hunt commission.”
Meanwhile, community and business leaders say that immigrants – those who are legal as well those who are undocumented – have been living in fear since the law took effect. Pastors report lower attendance at Sunday services, and Georgia restaurant owners say they have lost workers and are having trouble finding others to replace them.
Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @LlorenteLatino