About 25 people gathered in the Woody Thompson Jr. Community Meeting room of the on Tuesday night to discuss immigration rights and House Bill 87, which will go into effect as law on July 1.
Panelists at the public forum/town hall meeting included an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, a Pebblebrook graduate who helped organized the recent walkout protest and area directors of civil rights groups, like the Organization for Chinese Americans, which is based in Washington, D.C.
Cobb Immigrant Alliance Director Richard Pellegrino said the purpose of the meeting was to educate community members about immigrant issues.
According to a Pew Hispanic Center report released in February, Georgia has the ninth largest population and seventh largest immigrant population in the U.S.
Pellegrino said people should unite in a grassroots effort to improve the communities throughout Georgia and not spend time “scapegoating.”
Larry Pellegrini, a lobbyist at the Georgia Capitol, explained the 27-page bill to the attendants, focusing on main points: the new stricter employment verification system and a complaint commission composed of seven people.
As part of the new law, Georgia businesses would be required to use E-Verify, a federal system, which identifies current citizenship status of applicants.
The complaint commission, which is formally named the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, would have seven members who look into complaints about immigration law enforcement issues. Pellegrini said because of provisions like this one, the law is very similar to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which fined law enforcement officials if they did not arrest people who were allegedly runaway slaves.
“I’m convinced that half the people who voted for this bill have no idea what they voted for even to this day,” Pellegrini said. “They were interested in passing anything, and the sad part of it is they got away with passing something really bad.”
Most of the attendants came to receive information about how best to fight for their immigrant friends and neighbors as well as for themselves.
Azadeh Shashahanni, an attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union and the director of the ACLU’s immigrant rights project, handed out cards with information on what to do and what rights one has if stopped by a police officer or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
Although immigration reform bills are proposed all over the country, Shashahani said, “H.B. 87 is really the worst. The 'show me your papers' provision will turn Georgia into a police state.”
Shashahanni said the provision of the bill which bans citizens from giving rides to illegal immigrants is “criminalizing the act of hospitality.”
She said the ACLU has been considering seriously challenging this bill in court.
An issue that was repeated throughout the meeting was how to deal with the almost palpable fear that has infiltrated their homes, families and communities since the bill was passed.
The law, Shashahanni explained, will force people who are illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens alike to “carry their papers on them at all times.”
Dulce Gueverra, who helped organize the walkout and , said she did so through frustration, stress and anxiety, because she knows her chances of going to college are slim.
In October, the State Board of Regents approved barring illegal immigrants from University of Georgia campus, which turned away students who were academically qualified in the last two years.
Dr. Ben Williams, who facilitated the meeting and who serves as the field operations manager for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said Guevera’s protest reminded him of the efforts for civil rights during the 1960s.
“I don’t know faces, the names or the places from which the bail money came to get us out of jail…We were eventually set free,” Williams said, referring to the times he was bailed out of jail while protesting segregation laws during the Civil Rights Movement.
The crowd of attendees, which was largely Hispanic, discussed issues on how to combat this law and, for the most part, agreed with one another.
Jimmy Lee, a South Cobb resident, did not agree with the majority of those at the meeting. Lee sat in the back as he listened quietly. He held a digital recorder, and he asked no questions during the meeting.
“What civil rights are being violated?” he asked outside after the meeting ended. “What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand?”