Tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters filled blocks of Atlanta’s downtown streets on July 2 wearing white, carrying beautiful banners and hand-printed signs, and chanting nonstop in English and Spanish.
Many of the slogans referenced HB 87, Georgia’s “show me your papers” legislation, which authorizes local police to act as immigration agents and is designed to intimidate undocumented workers into leaving the state.
The march was led by members of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), who are challenging the restrictions on their future and calling for passage of the DREAM Act. Banners called for an end to the raids and deportations.
Many children carried signs pleading not to deport their parents. Challenging the racist aspects of the law, a huge banner depicting a strong Latina declared: “Brown Is Beautiful.” Numerous signs referenced the millions of dollars already lost to the state’s agricultural economy as crops rotted in the fields for lack of skilled farmworkers.
Four counties in Georgia operate under 287(g) agreements that have resulted in the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrants, most of whom were arrested for traffic infractions. The largest, privately operated detention center is in the town of Lumpkin and holds some 1,900 men.
Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Stewart Detention Center there, has been denounced for its profiteering off the separation of immigrant families.
The failure of the Obama administration and Congress to address legalization and a just immigration policy was addressed in chants and on placards.
In response to a call by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), protesters came from across the state, from as far as Valdosta, Dalton, Columbus and Rome. Supporters from North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and as far away as Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, California and New York joined the protest.
Week of intense struggle
The march and rally at the Georgia State Capitol capped off a week of intense struggle by immigrant communities and human rights advocates.
On June 27 a federal district judge agreed to grant a temporary injunction suspending two sections of HB 87, scheduled to be enacted on July 1. Judge Thomas Thrash stopped Georgia from giving law enforcement agencies throughout the state the power to detain and arrest anyone who could not show sufficient identification following any violation, no matter how minor, including traffic stops or jaywalking. He also prevented the implementation of a provision that would make it illegal to knowingly transport or harbor an undocumented person.
This is the fourth federal court that has barred states from assuming responsibility for enforcing immigration policies.
While immigrant and civil rights activists hailed this victory in stopping two of the most egregious sections of HB 87, Georgia law now makes it a crime to use false documents to secure a job, punishable by 15 years in prison. Starting in January, most private employers will be required to use the federal E-Verify system, known to be flawed, to ascertain the legality of new hires. Citizens will be able to sue elected officials for failing to uphold HB 87.
The day after the federal ruling, GUYA held a “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally inside the state Capitol building where five young people from Georgia and one from New York told their stories. Each concluded by saying their name and that they were “undocumented and unafraid.”
At an outside rally, longtime civil rights leaders and members of the African-American religious community proclaimed their support for the immigrants’ rights movement. They applauded the role of young people in confronting injustice, risking their lives and safety to bring about needed change.
Dressed in caps and gowns, the students led a crowd of hundreds in a march around Georgia State University, one of the state’s five institutions of higher education which the Georgia legislature has banned undocumented youth from attending.
Their lead banner read “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unashamed, Unapologetic!”
Returning to the Capitol, the students spread a large canvas with the words “We Will No Longer Remain in the Shadows” in the intersection and sat down surrounded by supporters. Traffic was brought to a standstill. Eventually, many police arrived and arrested the six. As each heroic youth was taken to a police car, dozens of chanting young people surrounded them and the vehicle.
All six were charged with multiple state offenses. Three were released to their parents’ custody because they were under 17. The other three spent the night in the Fulton County Jail and were then released on their own recognizance with an August court date.
This was the second such civil disobedience action in Atlanta with undocumented youth risking deportation to press the issue of the status of children who have spent most of their lives in the United States and have no path to legalization. Without papers, they cannot get a driver’s license, find employment, receive public benefits or attend Georgia’s top five universities, regardless of their grades.
July 1 strike spurs resistance
During the week, a number of community meetings were held in metro Atlanta to provide information in multiple languages — from Korean and Chinese to Portuguese and Spanish — about the impact of HB 87 and the injunction. Similar events were organized around the state, including one in Dalton where people were particularly concerned about police roadblocks in immigrant neighborhoods. Students and community members held a rally in Athens on June 30 at the gates to the University of Georgia, one of the universities barred to undocumented students.
On July 1, the day HB 87 went into effect, GLAHR called for a “Day without Immigrants,” a stay-at-home strike where people would not work, shop or go about their usual business. More than 125 businesses owned by immigrants, from beauty shops to food markets, closed that day in solidarity. Restaurant, construction, landscaping, hotel and other workers took the day off. Shopping mall parking lots in immigrant communities were empty.
People outside Georgia are encouraged to cancel any conventions, reunions, meetings or vacations as part of the “Boycott of a State of Hate.”
Volunteers are coming from throughout the country this summer to help build local resistance to HB 87 and other anti-immigrant legislation. A campaign to identify “BuySpots” and “Sanctuary Zones” will identify businesses that agree to publicly oppose HB 87 by refusing to allow police into their establishments to check people’s identification without a warrant and by pledging not to financially support elected officials who promote anti-immigrant legislation.
Already many bookstores, restaurants, clothing and record stores, markets, beauty and barber shops display the BuySpot sign. Churches and other religious institutions, community centers, homeless shelters and other public gathering sites that make a similar pledge will be identified as Sanctuary Zones. For more information, visit WeAreGeorgia.org.
It is hot in Georgia during any summer, but this summer the heat will be on right-wing politicians, spotlighted by a rising people’s movement engaging thousands of workers, youth and women. They are stepping out of the shadows, undocumented and unafraid.