Jack Murphy says his Senate Bill 40 would allow the state to tackle its growing illegal immigration problem.
“It would slow down the illegal aliens that are coming to Georgia,” said Murphy, R-District 27.
If the bill were to pass, however, it could take time to implement due to the level of cooperation required.
The measure would ultimately involve the Georgia Department of Labor, local law enforcement, public entities, private businesses and federal agencies.
Among other aspects, it would require law enforcement officers to verify residency for anyone who has committed a criminal offense, including minor traffic violations.
For example, the bill states a burglary suspect would be required to show proof of legal residency if the officer had “reasonable cause to suspect that such person is an illegal alien."
If the suspect could not, the officer would be directed to make an arrest and arrange a transfer to a federal facility within a week.
In Forsyth County, Sheriff Ted Paxton said immigration status is not currently relevant to the crime. If a suspect is convicted of a crime, he or she serves the time and is released. The same goes for traffic violations.
“They just get a ticket and go on their way,” Paxton said. “As it is right now, immigration law is a federal statute ... And so by virtue of that, we’re not able to enforce it.”
Paxton said the only way an illegal resident can be arrested for more than a crime is through a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, program.
The Secure Communities Initiative allows local agencies to run fingerprints through a federal database showing illegal residents who previously committed a crime. The database is integrated with that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paxton said.
“If it is discovered the individual is a criminal alien, we put a detainer or hold on them for immigration,” he said. “But if the only revelation is that they’re simply in the country illegally, that is not enough for us to hold them.”
Paxton said about 30 percent of the county’s arrestees charged with a crime tend to be “aliens who we suspect are in the country illegally.”
“Right now, they are just simply treated like anyone else,” he said. “We don’t have the ability to do anything with them.”
If Murphy’s bill is approved, that could change, but only on the state end.
To be effective, the proposal would still need federal involvement to take custody of illegal residents arrested by local officers.
A bill similar to Murphy’s was passed in Arizona last year, though a federal judge later ruled it unconstitutional.
Among the issues reviewed was a declaration from an ICE official, who noted the department's “finite resources” that need to focus on public safety threats.
But Murphy said with more than a dozen other states proposing illegal immigration laws, the federal government will have no choice but to make some changes.
“Hopefully ... the federal government will start to realize that they are not doing what they should be,” he said.
Murphy’s proposal also addresses employment, vowing to impose fines on state agencies, contractors and subcontractors, as well as private businesses, that do not ensure the legal status of new hires through the E-Verify system.
Only businesses that have filed an H-1 or H-2 application with the U.S. Department of Labor would be exempt from using E-Verify under the proposed bill.
Murphy said the requirements wouldn’t be much different from current law. The big change is adding penalties.
The measure includes jail time and fines for state agency department heads who violate the bill. Contractors and subcontractors for state projects would face fines of $1,000 each day they violate the provisions.
James McCoy, president of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses wouldn’t be affected by the measure as much as in other counties.
“We have some light manufacturing, but the industries that we are focused on are not using immigrant or migrant labor, at least not in substantial numbers.”
The county does, however, have a strong international business population, with many companies making their U.S. headquarters here.
“The issues are a little different when you’re talking about a company who is moving someone, either temporarily or for that matter permanently from Europe,” McCoy said.
According to the bill, the state labor office would adopt the regulations to enforce the provisions. It would also be responsible for revoking business licenses and verifying participation.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said he’s “a firm believer that we have to protect our work force and that we only have legal residents working in the state.” However, money is tight.
And unless the provision provides about $300,000 in startup costs and up to $180,000 annually for a “bare bones staff,” enforcing the measure might be impossible, he said.
About 90 percent of the department’s budget is federal money. Regulations don’t allow it to use employees for any purpose other than their job descriptions.
Regardless, Murphy is confident his bill will yield some noticeable changes in the state's growing illegal immigration population.
“It’s not decreasing, it’s increasing,” he said. “This will try to slow that down.”