Pres. Obama issued an executive order Friday. It gives immunity to some undocumented people from deportation.
It will affect the majority of the estimated 400,000 undocumented residents in Georgia, experts say. That figure includes many students who were brought here illegally as children.
Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is challenging Georgia’s 2011 immigration crackdown, which bars many employers from hiring illegal workers. He says the order is a game-changer.
“This is a monumental change in the way undocumented immigrants of any type are handled, and it’s unprecedented in a regulatory manner in the history of the U.S.,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
The President’s order doesn’t alter Georgia’s immigration law, although it will allow some undocumented residents to apply for work permits.
A federal judge has blocked some parts of the law, but not the provision that makes it illegal to hire undocumented workers.
Jonathan Eoloff is with the Latin American Association in Atlanta. He says since the order will give some residents a stay from deportation, and then they can apply for a work permit, it could circumvent the Georgia law.
“It allows them to -- if they obtain the deferred action status -- it allows them to get authorized work employment so they would indeed be eligible to apply for work here," he said. "So it sort of negates the whole purpose of the state law.”
It’s unclear how the order will affect a ban on undocumented students from the state’s top public colleges. Kuck said following the President’s order, he expects a challenge to the ban if it remains in effect. John Millsaps, a spokesman for the University System of Georgia, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The system’s chancellor, Hank Huckaby, opposed a bill this year that would have expanded the ban to all state public institutions. It failed.
Rep. Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican, co-sponsored that bill. In an email, he said he admires young people who were brought here illegally as children.
"I firmly believe these young people had no choice in coming here, they are bright, determined, dedicated, and survivors," he said. "They most likely faced serious discrimination; yet, they prevailed. They desire the American dream and to contribute positively as evident by their application to college.
But he said, now they are adults.
"The decisions are now theirs, not their parents," he said in the email. "Their desire to achieve the American dream must be rooted in the rule of law that is the foundation of American success. I do not oppose these young people achieving that American dream and living out their lives contributing to our nation that, after all, is a nation of immigrants. I simply believe for their success and the future success of our nation, that path must be a legal one."
Some of the undocumented students Harrell mentions greeted Obama's announcement with skepticism. Keish Kim of Roswell said she's not sure she will apply for the deferred status. She said elected officials have issued similar proclamations, but many undocumented immigrants have still been deported.
She said instead, comprehensive immigration legislation, including a pathway to citizenship for illegal residents already here, needs to be enacted.