Georgia lawmakers are considering legislation that supporters say is intended to ensure the deportation of people in the country illegally who commit crimes.
The bill is known as the END Act, which stands for Ensuring Necessary Deportations. Supporters of the measure say it would increase accountability and make the state safer.
“I think someone who’s already in the country without lawful status who then commits a crime, we ought to be doing everything we can to have that person deported,” said Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon, a supporter of the bill.
But critics say the measure is unconstitutional, harmful to immigrant communities and could result in people being held unlawfully. A person’s immigration status isn’t always easy to determine, and it’s not clear how police and state court judges would accurately make that determination, they say.
“With automatic extensions and pending applications, many of our clients cannot point to one document to demonstrate status, even if they are in country lawfully,” Tracie Klinke, chair of the Georgia-Alabama chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in an emailed statement. “The complexities of immigration law should be left to the agencies and individuals who are already well-versed in this arena.”
Under the measure, police would be required to detain any criminal suspect who appears to be in the country illegally, and to notify prosecutors and federal immigration authorities. Judges would be required to “inquire and determine” the immigration status of people who appear before them for sentencing and to “immediately notify” federal immigration authorities if a person is in the country illegally. Finally, local jail authorities would have to notify federal immigration authorities before releasing someone who is in the country illegally.
Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said he’s watching the bill and plans to make sure any final version is something his members can legally comply with.
The legislation could also lead to lawsuits that could be costly for local jurisdictions, critics say.
“Make no mistake, if this law passes, we are going to monitor its implementation closely and we are going to challenge it in court,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, which focuses on immigrants’ rights.
McKoon said that threat won’t deter lawmakers.
“I feel like it’s well within our constitutional purview to ask the court to do what they’re doing and to ask law enforcement to do what we’re asking them to do in the bill,” he said. “But that certainly won’t stop someone from filing a meritless lawsuit.”
The part of the legislation having to do with courts is potentially problematic because it seems to instruct judges to investigate the immigration status of people who appear before them, which is completely unrelated to the criminal charges over which those judges have authority, University of Georgia law professor Jason Cade said in a phone interview.
“There’s a very strong whiff of a separation of powers problem under the Georgia Constitution,” he said.
Not only are judges being instructed to investigate the immigration status of people appearing before them, they are then being told to alert federal law enforcement authorities.
“That’s not what judges are supposed to do,” Cade said. “They’re not law enforcement agents, and there’s a reason that they’re separated.”
McKoon said the bill doesn’t require a judge to directly ask someone about immigration status and conceded that it may not always be possible for judges to make that determination. But too often, he said, people who have been identified by federal immigration authorities as being potentially deportable are released by local jails officials who choose not to notify federal immigration authorities, and prompt notification by judges could help solve that problem.
McKoon also said he doesn’t see a problem with judges communicating with federal immigration authorities, noting that judges regularly communicate with law enforcement to have offenders put on registries.
The legislation passed the Senate on Monday. The House is expected to take it up in the coming weeks.