Nov. 14, 2012— -- A new immigration law in Georgia requires all healthcare workers, regardless of where they were born, to prove their citizenship or legal residency when renewing a professional license. Georgia's secretary of state handles licensing for nurses, pharmacists and veterinarians, while its medical board issues licenses to doctors, physician assistants and acupuncturists. As National Public Radio reported, workers in both offices have been inundated with paperwork. As a result, licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others have expired.
The enactment of the new law also coincided with budget cuts that reduced the secretary of state's office staff by 40 percent, compounding the problem.
Donald Palmisano Jr., the executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, told NPR the law isn't addressing a real problem.
"We're not aware of any undocumented immigrants that are physicians," he said.
The state also doesn't check whether the documents being submitted are genuine, meaning someone could successfully hand in falsified papers.
"It's absolutely the wrong time to be making it more burdensome for crucial careers such as nurses and doctors to be filled," Katie O'Connor, an attorney with the civil rights group Advancement Project, told ABC/Univision News. "This ad hoc, haphazard approach…is really doing a lot more damage than good."
Both O'Connor and Palmisano Jr. call it a solution in search of a "problem that doesn't exist."
"It's similar to a lot of laws that purport to target or isolate undocumented immigrants," Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said. "But often they're in places where undocumented immigrants are not eligible in the first place."
Broder said she hasn't heard of undocumented immigrants attempting to practice medicine, and noted that Georgia has significantly fewer undocumented immigrants than other states such as California or Texas.
D.A. King, who helped write the law, told NPR even he thinks it needs some tweaking. Chris Perlera, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, told ABC/Univision News one possibility is requiring proof of citizenship or legal residency only for those applying for licenses for the first time, which would reduce the amount of work for office staff who process the applications and renewals.
State lawmakers attempted to make that adjustment earlier this year, but the effort stalled in the House.
"I think that's better than nothing," O'Connor said, "but it's still a burden."