01/17/2012

Georgia Immigration Board Proposes Sweeping Powers to Investigate, Punish Government Officials

Georgia continues to unjustly target immigrants through shameful and un-American tactics. Those tactics are illuminated by new regulations proposed by the state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board (IERB) – rules that propel the state further in the wrong direction.

The board was created by HB 87, Georgia’s anti-immigrant law, as an enforcement body. It will have the power to investigate citizen complaints that government agencies or public employees have violated or failed to enforce certain provisions of the law – for example, a requirement that an applicant for public benefits prove legal status. It will have the power to hold hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses, and order sanctions.

The board is accepting public comments about the proposed rules until Jan. 18, and we strongly encourage everyone to submit comments. It is vital that the board knows Georgia deserves a more just approach.

The proposed rules, if enacted, would grant the board sweeping powers. For example, it will have the authority to compel anyone to appear and answer its questions. It will be able to strip government agencies, including municipalities, of funding.

These powers are extraordinary, particularly given that one board member, Phil Kent, is a an anti-immigrant extremist. Kent is a longtime national spokesman for the Americans for Immigration Control, which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. His appointment by the Georgia government calls into question whether the board will use its power to conduct witch hunts. It’s reminiscent of darker times in our nation’s past when people were the targets of unscrupulous campaigns to investigate unfounded complaints about their political ties.

Unfortunately, under the new regulations, board members will operate with virtually unbridled authority.

Board rulings – which could strip funding from adult education or a city’s department of health and human services, for example – are insulated from judicial review. Even if the board blatantly discriminates, acts arbitrarily, or advances personal agendas, people who are injured by its actions cannot appeal the ruling to any court.

This kind of unchecked executive power is un-American and cannot stand.

The purpose of the board, of course, is not to fix problems caused by the implementation of HB 87’s fundamentally flawed state-level immigration enforcement law. It does not, for instance, provide a forum for people who have been racially profiled as a result of HB 87 to file a report or to seek redress. Those Georgians whose lives or businesses have been damaged by HB 87 have no safe space in which to report those injuries.  

Instead, the board is concerned only with expanding the reach of this law, providing a convenient forum for those who wish to further degrade those segments of Georgia’s population who will face discrimination as a result HB 87.  

Our government works because checks and balances keep each branch from overstepping its rightful authority. Yet the proposed rules isolate the board from this time-tested system.

If you are troubled by this, please submit a comment by Jan. 18 to the following address and ask for a fair approach:

Immigration Enforcement Review Board

270 Washington Street SW

Room 1-156

Atlanta, GA 30334