When the subject of illegal immigration comes up, the states you think about first are Texas and California. Maybe Arizona. But, as of July 1, it is Georgia, a full thousand miles from the Mexican border, that is at the center of the immigration debate in the United States.
That’s because SB 529, its new immigration law now taking effect, is the most stringent statute of its kind anywhere in the country. It is the sort of law that immigration hard-liners would like to see enacted on a national basis. Under its provisions, state and local government agencies have to verify the legal residency of benefit recipients. Many employers will have to do the same whenever they make a hiring decision. Law enforcement officers are given authority to crack down on human trafficking and fake documents. In sum, SB 529 touches every facet of state policy that relates to illegal immigrants.
The central question about the law is, obviously, whether it will work as intended and reduce the impact of undocumented newcomers on the state. But an equally important question is whether the political situation that led to SB 529 can be sustained and replicated in other places. The topic of illegal immigration has bedeviled virtually every state legislature and the U.S. Congress for years, without much substantive result. What made Georgia different was a populist uprising that all but forced the legislature to crack down on the undocumented community. If that sort of pressure gains momentum elsewhere, the near future may portend a series of state laws as strict as Georgia’s — even if Congress manages to pass an immigration bill of its own. Oklahoma and Colorado have both enacted laws with some provisions similar to SB 529 — the question is how many states will follow.