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Ga. governor signs bill requiring sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law

Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 1105, which will punish sheriffs who don’t notify immigration agents once they have identified that someone may be in the country illegally

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FILE - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State speech, Jan. 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Brynn Anderson/AP

By Michelle Baruchman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Sheriffs in Georgia will now be required to coordinate with federal immigration officials when someone in custody is suspected of being in the country without permission.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed House Bill 1105, requiring jailers to hold any suspect who is believed to be in the country without legal permission if that person is wanted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Sponsored by state Rep. Jesse Petrea, a Republican from Savannah, the legislation would punish sheriffs who don’t notify federal immigration agents once they have identified that someone being held may be in the country illegally.

The effort gained momentum following the killing of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley, who was found dead in February near the University of Georgia’s campus after going for a run. Police arrested a man from Venezuela, who authorities say was in the United States without authorization, in connection with the slaying.

“If you enter our country illegally and proceed to commit further crimes in our communities, we will not allow your crimes to go unanswered,” Kemp said ahead of signing the bill.

Studies have typically found that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born U.S. citizens.

In debate during the legislative session, some sheriffs had raised concerns about additional responsibilities the legislation would place upon them, saying information about suspects is often limited and many sheriffs don’t possess the legal authority to enforce federal laws. Failure to comply with the law could result in local governments losing state funding or state-administered federal funding.

However, a few sheriffs fully endorsed the measure.

Republicans sought to use this legislation to stop local governments from enacting “sanctuary” policies, where local officials give safe harbor to people living in the country without legal permission, even though Georgia law already forbids such practices.

In March, Sean Ervin, the Atlanta field office director for ICE, responded to criticism from some sheriffs who said the agency doesn’t always come to pick up suspects that have received detainers.

“To the best of our ability, we cover all 159 counties in the state of Georgia,” he said. “If there’s a sheriff anywhere who feels that they’re underserved by ICE, then I would welcome them to bring that to my attention. We can work on that.”

Groups representing immigrant communities have opposed the legislation, saying the measure has fueled “fear and doubt” among immigrants.

The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights is holding a rally Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol to protest the bill’s signing.

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