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Has the Peach State Become the Prison State?: Georgia's New Penal Profiteering Approach to Immigration

Darkness at Noon: Georgia Dumps Peaches for Prisons with Arizona Copycat Immigration Law Today

Jeff Biggers

Will the Peach State now become the Prison State?

When Gov. Nathan Deal signed his state’s punitive HB 87 immigration law at noon today, Georgia took Arizona’s place on the nation’s fast track to penal profiteering from immigration crackdowns.

So much for colonial Georgia founder James Oglethorpe’s legacy, who railed against the British prisons, and launched the Great Seal of Georgia in 1733 with the motto: “Not for ourselves, but for others.”

Georgia’s new motto: “Not less than three nor more than 15 years.”

All civil rights violations aside, Georgia’s Arizona copycat “show me your papers” law not only grants widely denounced authority for unprecedented police investigations, but also calls for unabashed long-term prison sentences for numerous violations.

For starters, read this section of HB 87:

Said article of said title is further amended by revising Code Section 16-9-126, relating to penalties for violations, as follows: “16-9-126.

(a) A violation of this article, other than a violation of Code Section 16-9-121.1 or 16-9-122, shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, or both. Any person who commits such a violation for the second or any subsequent offense shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three nor more than 15 years, a fine not to exceed $250,000.00, or both.

(a.1) A violation of Code Section 16-9-121.1 shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 15 years, a fine not to exceed $250,000.00, or both, and such sentence shall run consecutively to any other sentence which the person has received.

(b) A violation of this article which does not involve the intent to commit theft or appropriation of any property, resource, or other thing of value that is committed by a person who is less than 21 years of age shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than three years or a fine not to exceed $5,000.00, or both.

So, who is behind this kind of penal profiteering approach to immigration?

The national Cuéntame organization recently posted this video, “Immigrants For Sale,” to explain the link between Arizona and Georgia-style immigration laws and the prison lobby:

To be sure, not all Georgians agree. The business and religious communities, as well as civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, have joined President Obama’s own call that the Georgia law wrongfully usurps federal jurisdiction. Arizona’s own controversial SB 1070 law has already been struck down twice in federal courts.

Other critics point to the importance of immigrants, legal and undocumented, in Georgia’s faltering economy. According to the Immigration Policy Center:

Immigrants are integral to Georgia’s economy as workers.

Immigrants comprised 12.6% of the state’s workforce in 2008 (or 626,836 workers), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Unauthorized immigrants comprised 6.3% of the state’s workforce (or 325,000 workers) in 2008, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Georgia, the state would lose $21.3 billion in economic activity, $9.5 billion in gross state product, and approximately 132,460 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a report by the Perryman Group.

Unauthorized immigrants contribute to the state’s economy.

Unauthorized immigrants in Georgia contributed between $215.6 million and $252.5 million in aggregated sales, income, and property tax, according to a 2006 study by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The average unauthorized family in Georgia contributed between $2,340 and $2,470 in state and local sales, income, and property tax, according to the same study. An unauthorized family that does not pay income taxes would have a sales and property tax contribution of $1,800 to $1,860.

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