ATLANTA – Many Americans today can trace their ancestry back to the shores of Ellis Island, one of the major points of entry for law abiding immigrants seeking to become citizens of the United States. Throughout its storied history, America has always been a land of hope and possibility.
Although America is known as a beacon of freedom and economic opportunity, it is also a nation of laws. On Monday, June 25, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold a key provision of Arizona’s immigration law, giving law enforcement the authority to check the immigration status of criminal suspects and further protects Arizona’s right to enforce its own immigration laws. I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “show your papers” provision of Arizona’s immigration law and see it as a major victory for the immigration reform that Georgia passed during the 2011 legislative session.
Due to the federal government’s unwillingness to enforce immigration laws and despite numerous attempts to strengthen laws that govern the naturalization process, many individuals continue to disregard the legal path to citizenship by living in the United States illegally and using resources intended for law abiding residents. Therefore, the responsibility to secure our nation’s borders has fallen largely in the hands of the states.
Citing increased violence along the state’s borders and recognizing the need to enforce greater immigration controls, Governor Jan Brewer did what any elected official would do – protect the citizens of her state. In 2011, under the protection afforded to states by the 10th amendment, which provides states the ability to define their own immigration laws and regulations, the State of Arizona passed sweeping immigration reform through the passage of SB 1070.
Shortly after the passage of SB 1070, opponents of the bill quickly derided the legislation as racial profiling even though individuals being questioned for a criminal offense are subject to further questioning in almost any case.
Similar to Arizona, Georgia also enacted stronger immigration laws through the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, or HB 87. This bill received national attention because, not unlike Arizona, it allows law enforcement officers to verify a person’s immigration status while investigating a criminal suspect. The legislation also cracks down on illegal immigration by requiring businesses with 10 or more employees to use E-Verify, the federal online system for verifying an employee’s citizenship.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia has risen sharply from 220,000 in the year 2000 to nearly 440,000 in 2011. In addition, the Federation for American Immigration Reform recently put out a publication outlining the net fiscal cost of illegal immigration in Georgia to be approximately $2.3 billion per year.
As you can see, illegal immigration presents a major fiscal burden to Georgia’s legal residents, the taxpayers. Therefore, securing state rights are vital to the preservation of a constitutional democracy, and cannot be separated if we wish to remain a strong republic of the people, for the people, and by the people. Today, we fight an increasingly difficult battle to secure our nation’s borders and protect individual state rights.
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Sen. Cecil Staton serves as Senate Majority Whip. He represents the 18th Senate District, which includes portions of Bibb, Crawford, Houston, Jones, and Monroe counties