HB 452 will require the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to publicly identify and reveal the addresses of certain foreign nationals who are released from federal custody, in an online list similar to Violent Sexual Offender Registry.
But exactly who will be on that list, as well as the legality and the intent of the law remain hotly contested.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Republican Hunter Hill who recently announced his bid for governor, said in a phone interview that only violent criminals who are "the worst of the worst" will be on the list, and "nobody that's legally in the U.S." is subject to disclosure. "The only people that are on that list have committed rape, sodomy, assault, battery or murder. Very violent criminals."
But immigrant rights groups such as the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) contend that HB 452 does not clearly limit the subject of disclosure to undocumented criminals. A legal permanent resident who is released from ICE custody and later found guilty could end up on the list, said Stephanie Cho, the executive director of AAAJ's Atlanta chapter.
Both interpretations seem to be be stretching it.
The final version of HB 452 mandates GBI to "post on its public website the information of persons who are aliens and who have been released from federal custody within the boundaries of this state." And it refers to a specific U.S. Homeland Security Department program as the source of that information.
The DHS keeps a comprehensive database, called Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), of foreign nationals "encountered during immigration and criminal law enforcement investigations and operations" conducted by agencies within the department, and alerts domestic law enforcement agencies when "aliens convicted of certain violent or serious crimes, including felonies and misdemeanors, are released from ICE custody," according the official abstract of the program.
Senator Hill's claim that the list will only have "the worst of the worst" and "nobody that's legally in the U.S." seems shaky. But, no one that's innocent is likely to be on the list, either.
Hill said he understands the concerns of the bill's opponents, but underscored the larger point of the bill by saying, "if there is somebody that, for reasons we can't understand, is not sent out of this country, it is a public safety issue that local law enforcement should be aware that certain people have been released back in to the community."
Stephanie Cho says there are very few undocumented convicts that are not deported, and usually the reason is for their and their family's safety. "In many cases, they are on witness protection or are refugees that cannot go back. That's why it's confidential. This bill will only create a witch hunt situation."
The decision as to "whether an unlawfully present foreign national is removed from the United States rests with a federal immigration judge," according to Brian Cox, a spokesman for ICE.
But even a permanent resident convicted of misdemeanor can end up on the list. Typically, a permanent resident who is "convicted of a charge that is punishable by up to 1 year in prison is likely to face another trial for deportation upon the completion of the sentence," says Gwinnett immigration attorney Jung-gyu Choi.
Those convicted with lesser charges can be subject to disclosure. Choi thinks disclosing their personal information "may be seen as double jeopardy," hence "legally dubious."