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Opinion: Governor should veto Georgia's ‘mean-spirited, divisive’ sanctuary campus bill

Shelley Rose is the interim regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, Southeast Region. In this guest column, Rose condemns House Bill 37, which would restrict funds for Georgia colleges that violate state and federal law by adopting polices that protect students living in the country illegally.

The bill passed the General Assembly and awaits the governor's signature. Nathan Deal had not signed the bill as of Tuesday.

By Shelley Rose

Gov. Nathan Deal is now considering House Bill 37, which targets undocumented immigrant students by prohibiting private colleges and universities from adopting so-called “sanctuary policies.”

This legislation should be vetoed because it will put campus safety at risk and undermine Georgia’s reputation and economy.

House Bill 37 effectively involves private colleges and universities, including religiously affiliated institutions, in enforcement of federal immigration law. It bars such institutions from adopting “any rule” that prohibits or restricts employees or officials from providing information “… relevant to the identity or location of an individual who is reasonably believed to be … illegally residing in the United States” to federal law enforcement or authorities. Of course, institution employees encompass campus police or safety personnel.

Local law enforcement cannot effectively do its job without establishing and maintaining trust with the communities they serve. And entangling local authorities with immigration enforcement jeopardizes that trust. House Bill 37 would undoubtedly cause undocumented students to distrust or even fear campus law enforcement or officials, which would deter such students from reporting criminal acts or violations of institution polices.

The legislation would not only make undocumented students uniquely vulnerable to crime and abuse, but it would put campus communities at greater risk. Undocumented students, as well as their family members and friends who have immigration status, would refrain from having any contact with campus authorities, including reporting crime or coming forward as a witness to a crime.  When immigrant communities start to fear local authorities, rather than to trust them, society in general becomes less safe.

If campus safety is not sufficient reason to veto this legislation, then the harm to Georgia’s reputation and economy should be. Our state’s private colleges and universities attract a diversity of talented and bright students and professors from around the world. But House Bill 37 would convey the unmistakable message that foreign students and professors are unwelcome because Georgia is anti-immigrant. It also will place professors, teaching assistants, dormitory resident assistants and even classmates who are employed by an institution in the untenable position of having to “out” students as undocumented.

It is well-documented that immigrants, particular highly skilled immigrants, are entrepreneurial and critical to economic advancement and growth. However, the hostile anti-immigrant environment created by House Bill 37 would put off foreign students from attending Georgia institutions and compel current students to leave. Similarly, it would motivate professors whether foreign-born or U.S. citizens to leave or not consider our state’s private institutions for their careers. Such a brain drain would undoubtedly be injurious to Georgia’s economy.

Perhaps next legislative session the General Assembly will put more focus on measures that unite Georgians to move the state forward. But in the interim, Gov. Deal should veto this harmful, divisive and mean-spirited legislation.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.