Six Undocumented Students Arrested for Protesting Georgia’s HB 87

For them, the climate of fear caused by anti-immigrant laws is just as harmful as the legislation itself.

By Julianne Hing Jun 28, 2011

UPDATE 3:31pm ET: Six undocumented immigrant high school students–Dulce Guerrero, Jessica Vasquez, Rolando Zenteno, Nataly Ibarra, Felipe Baeza and Leeidy Solis, some as young as 16 years old–have been arrested by police while protesting the Georgia’s anti-immigrant law at the state capitol today.


A federal judge has issued a temporary block against two of the harshest provisions of Georgia’s new sweeping anti-immigrant law, HB 87, just days before the law is set to go into effect. 

Most of the law still stands, and is set to go into effect later this week, on July 1. Today, a handful of Georgia undocumented immigrant youth are headed to Atlanta to protest the law and this afternoon plan to risk arrest by announcing their status in the state capitol.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash issued an injunction against the provisions of HB 87 which were designed to mimic Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, including a provision which would have empowered police to investigate the immigration statuses of people they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe were undocumented. Judge Thrash also enjoined, pending the outcome of a court challenge to the law, the portion of HB 87 which made it a state crime to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant.

Yet the undocumented immigrant youth who are headed to the state capitol aren’t letting up.

"Our biggest fear is that people think that some form of injunction against HB 87 means we can breathe a sigh of relief," said Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant activist and cofounder of the immigrant youth clearinghouse said from Georgia.

"The things that HB 87 would have allowed are already happening in Georgia, with or without the law," Abdollahi said, citing local enforcement policies that crack down on people who drive without a license and Secure Communities, an immigration enforcement program that allows the federal government to have access to the rolls of anyone who’s booked in a participating county’s local jails, even if charges are never filed or people are eventually acquitted.

On July 1, the state will go ahead with adopting the provisions of HB 87 which restrict immigrants’ access to public benefits and mandate the adoption of E-Verify, the controversial federal employment verification database. Thrash threw out arguments that challenged HB 87’s mandatory E-Verify provision. E-Verify supposedly cracks down on bosses that hire undocumented workers by requiring bosses to check the Social Security Numbers of workers against a flawed database.

Still, Georgia lawmakers consider E-Verify a crucial win. "We know the No. 1 incentive that exists for illegal aliens to come to Georgia is access to private sector jobs," Republican state Rep. Matt Ramsey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It’s this climate of fear and anti-immigrant legislation that Georgia’s immigrant youth are protesting today.

"It’s crazy because you can’t even work," said Jessica Vasquez, an 18-year-old high schooler who’s undocumented. "What are we supposed to live off of if you can’t even work?"

Vasquez will be one of several undocumented immigrant youth who plan to take part in civil disobedience this afternoon to protest HB 87, as well as a new ban Georgia adopted that forbids undocumented immigrant students from enrolling in any of the state’s top five public universities.

"I can’t live my life in fear. I’m tired of waiting."

Vasquez said that even though HB 87 and other state immigration laws are tied up in the courts, they’ve successfully frightened the immigrant community, and that she’s noticed its impact on her own family.

"Every night I text my mom when she is at work and ask her, ‘Where are you? Are you okay? Are you coming home?’ and when she doesn’t answer I get mad at her because anything could happen to her," Vasquez said. "When she comes in the door, I’m always waiting for her, just to know that nothing happened to her. That’s how hard it is."

"The ruling is a partial victory for immigrant communities," said Teodoro Maus, a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 87 who represents the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. "Before HB 87 became law there was such aggression and misinformation about the Latino community. What HB 87 was trying to do was institutionalize it, and then harden to criminalize every action that Latino and other immigrants would need to live."

Monday’s injunction is the fourth such ruling to be issued against a state immigration law. Similar injunctions have been granted against Arizona’s SB 1070, the Utah Compact, Indiana’s HB 590. The Department of Justice sued Arizona, arguing that immigration enforcement is strictly the territory of the federal government, but has yet to take action against the many other states who’ve passed restrictive anti-immigrant policy since.