Georgia moved one step closer to passing a sweeping immigration law when H.B. 87 cleared the House by a 112-57 margin.
The Republican backed measure has been sharply criticized by state Democratic leaders. The House Democratic Caucus claims, among other things, that H.B. 87 legalizes racial profiling.
"As every attorney knows, it is not simply the presence of a clause in the law but the context of that clause. H.B. 87 tells officers not to look at race, color or national origin, but the bill goes on to state that if they do, we won't hold it against them," said Rep. Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader and an attorney.
Abrams compared the profiling clauses to the side effect warnings at the end of pharmaceutical commercials.
"The lines are the whispered reference to the side effects, a warning that these laws may cause moral blindness, social ostracization for legal immigrants and economic paralysis across our state," she said.
Abrams said H.B. 87 will lead to local governments facing homemade class-action lawsuits and families cowering in shadows, afraid that their papers won't be enough to protect them.
Democrats also expressed concern the legislation could have unintended consequences in terms of economic impact.
"This bill would lead to international avoidance of Georgia, as is now the case in Arizona. Perception, more than reality, will hurt our tourism industry," said Rep. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta). "We have already seen what this law has done to Arizona. Georgia cannot afford to lose millions to prove they are tough on immigration."
House Democrats say H.B. 87 is fatally flawed in that it attempts to solve a federal problem using the limits of state government.
"HB 87 will put the lives of underfunded officers on the line, where we will be outnumbered 8 to 1. When a person who is here illegally is approached by an officer now, the officer must fear that the person will be fighting for his freedom. That is a dangerous situation for any officer," said Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro), a Clayton County detective and police officer. "The legislature is asking us to do what the federal government should. They have the resources. We do not."
As the legislation moves to the Georgia State Senate, Democratic leaders vow to continue the battle.
"It is unfortunate that Georgia's legislature is rushing to make our state unattractive to domestic and international business,” said Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon), Democratic Caucus Leader in the State Senate. “Ironically, while many of the advocates of H.B. 87 also reject the involvement of the federal government in health, they care are inviting the federal government to destroy Georgia's agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries. They are going beyond the federal government in imposing onerous regulations on law-abiding citizens.”
Rep. Brian Thomas (D-Lilburn), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus expressed his concern about the state’s tourism industry saying Arizona has lost more than $45 million to date due to cancelled conventions and boycotts.
"Georgia relies on tourism to feed our families. This bill will not curb illegal immigration, but it will put a black eye on our state and send jobs elsewhere. This is an anti-economic development bill that will haunt Georgia for years to come," he said.