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Tackling immigration reform
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The General Assembly completed its work last week on March 4, with our 24th legislative session day. Several key pieces of legislation were debated and discussed on the House floor.

Immigration reform is a topic discussed not only in our state but throughout the country. We live in a wonderful country and welcome people to our country and our state, legally. The issue arises how to address the people that are here illegally. Last week, the House passed House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. After three hours of debate, this legislation passed the House 113 to 56. This is a reform to the current immigration law in Georgia and would also add in additional protections to ensure people in our state are here legally.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I in the House passed House Bill 87, legislation calling for fair practices for Georgia’s laborers and local communities. Under HB 87, employers would be required to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States by using the E-Verify system. Additionally, HB 87 requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes, and helps local law enforcement agencies handle issues associated with illegal immigration. It is important to note that this legislation does not affect the existing H-2A visa program that provides a legal avenue for foreign workers to temporarily come to Georgia and work with the agriculture industry in our state.

I would also like to tell you a little about House Bill 200. The Georgia General Assembly should do everything possible to combat the practice of human trafficking, and this legislation seeks to give law enforcement officials the necessary tools to attack this evil practice within the state of Georgia.

This legislation amends Titles 16, 17 and 35 of the Official Code of Georgia to discourage the trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude. It clarifies the definition of sexual servitude, increases penalties for individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking, provides law enforcement with more tools to combat the practice of human trafficking, and expands the forfeiture law to apply against those convicted of the practice of human trafficking.

Real and personal property are subject to forfeiture if (1) used or intended for use in the course of, (2) derived from, or (3) realized through a violation of this Code section.

Penalties for violating the Code sections involving prostitution, keeping a place of prostitution, pimping or pandering (OCGA 16-6-10 through 12) are increased. The penalty is also increased if the offense involves persons under the age of 16.

This bill allows for victim compensation to be made available to individuals subjected to trafficking for labor or sexual servitude.

Any person who suffers a serious mental or emotional trauma as a result of being trafficked for labor or sexual servitude is made eligible as long as they fully cooperate with law enforcement against the human trafficker. The bill also gives the GBI authority to investigate crimes involving the trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude.

Now that House Bills 87 and 200 have passed the House, they will make their way through the Senate committee process. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, these bills will become law. As we continue to consider sensitive issues and legislation, I need to know how you and your family feel about matters concerning the future of our great state. I am always eager to hear your thoughts and concerns. Please feel free to call me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding HOPE, illegal immigration, public safety, or an outstanding member of our local community deserving recognition.

You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-5099. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.