Tue., June 26, 2012 5:44pm (EDT)

Confusion Follows Immigration Directive
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 2 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
Pres. Obama issued a directive this month that will spare some undocumented residents from deportation. The order raises questions about how Georgia will deal with illegal immigrants now. Undocumented students in Georgia (in photo) testified before a statehouse committee earlier this year, protesting a policy that keeps them out of the state's top public colleges.
Pres. Obama issued a directive this month that will spare some undocumented residents from deportation. The order raises questions about how Georgia will deal with illegal immigrants now. Undocumented students in Georgia (in photo) testified before a statehouse committee earlier this year, protesting a policy that keeps them out of the state's top public colleges.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration law is expected to resolve parts of Georgia’s immigration crackdown that are still tied up in court. But the High Court ruling does not clear up questions about another piece of the nation’s immigration debate. It’s an order Pres. Obama issued this month that will spare some young undocumented residents from deportation. The directive’s impact in Georgia is uncertain.

The order affects undocumented youth who are 30 and under, and who don’t have criminal record. And it will allow them to obtain work permits and drivers’ licenses – something they cannot do right now.

It won’t give the young people legal status. But some say it will nonetheless upend a state law cracking down on illegal immigration passed by lawmakers last year.

One of those people is Jonathan Eoloff, a lawyer with the Latin American Association in Atlanta.

“If you look at the scope or the reason behind or the justification behind the law, it’s to get undocumented people out of Georgia,” he said in an interview. “And in fact what’s going to happen is, people will obtain papers – not necessarily a lawful status – but they’re going to be able to get work authorization and they’re going to stay in Georgia.”

Republican State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, who supports the immigration law, says that’s a problem because it creates a new class of people who are neither fully legal nor fully illegal.

“There are going to be a lot of questions that have to be answered now. Federal and state law both prohibit any taxpayer-funded benefit going to anyone who’s in this nation illegally,” he said. “So is that going then to make them eligible for food stamps or welfare or public housing?”

A federal judge has blocked some parts of the state law, but not the provision that makes it illegal to hire undocumented workers.

Janice Kephart is with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington D.C think tank that supports stricter enforcement. She says E-Verify allows employers to check workers’ immigration status against the Social Security and immigration services databases.

And she says the long bureaucratic process of implementing Obama’s order will create confusion for employers.

“It was the right move of the federal government to give a tool to employers to make that determination for them and the law is very clear that employers are not to hire somebody who is here illegally,” she said. “What the President has done is undermine E-Verify significantly. And he’s undermined immigration law significantly.”

Georgia’s immigration law requires companies employing 500 or more to use E-Verify to vet their workers’ immigration status.

On July 1, companies who employ between 100 and 500 people will have to start using E-Verify.

There are about 400,000 undocumented residents in Georgia. That includes many students who were brought here illegally as children and are now at or past college-age.

It’s unclear how Obama’s order will affect those who want to enroll at the state’s top five public colleges.

The University System of Georgia bans undocumented students from these schools because they are the most selective.

And Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck, who is challenging the state’s immigration law in federal court, says that’s a problem.

“These are issues that are unresolved here in Georgia that will have to be resolved by the Board of Regents and certainly by our Legislature,” he said.

A University Systems’ spokesman says attorneys are still examining the order’s potential impact on the ban.

Kuck says he expects a challenge if it remains in effect.

The president’s directive probably won’t take effect until later this summer when federal agencies set up an application process for the deferred status.