Then, I learned that I would be sharing the honor with another former elected official — and not just any politician, but a former president of the United States of America! On May 4 in Boston, Lauren Bush, granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush, and I stood side by side to receive the annual Profile in Courage Award. Unbelievable!
While we were honored for different reasons, as a fellow Republican, I am humbled to join President Bush and be a small part of the legacy that this award represents.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum presented this award in part because I joined a lawsuit against Georgia's "papers please" anti-immigration law implemented as a result of ignorance-fueled fears. I felt that I had no choice but to stand up against this 2011 law, H.B. 87, because it further flamed prejudice against our mixed-status immigrant community.
Mixed-status communities, like mixed-status families, include members who are citizens, others with immigration authorization papers, and undocumented immigrants. In mixed-status families and communities, the well-being and treatment of one individual often shapes and distorts the lives of others. So, reasonable treatment and basic legal protections are needed for all.
Before the courts overturned the law's central provisions, H.B. 87 allowed police in Georgia to demand proof of immigration status from anyone, even after a simple traffic violation. It also would have imposed criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly "harbors or transports" an undocumented immigrant. Worse, it terrorized thousands of those individuals and made them fear their families could be torn apart by a deportation every hour of every day. It made honest Georgia citizens into lawbreakers for being good neighbors. It also threatened to run my area's economy into the ground as families contributing to our economy, including many made up of members with various legal statuses, considered leaving the state rather than risk separation.
This extreme law would have denied me and my fellow Georgians the right to drive with our friends, host family members, or engage in other normal, daily activities without government intrusion. I couldn't stand by and watch my community be divided. So I was proud to join the legal effort that ultimately proved successful in striking down critical portions of Georgia's H.B. 87.
I knew that the reasonable Republican Party I had joined years ago stood for protection of the family, small business, liberty, privacy, and prosperity. H.B. 87 put these values under attack. It was unconstitutional. Fortunately, the courts agreed.
While I am honored and humbled to receive a Profile in Courage Award, I know in my heart that it didn't take courage to speak the truth. I felt as if I was witnessing a profound injustice. I was willing to speak up and was buoyed by the knowledge that there are millions of others who feel the same. That is all I have really done: speak the truth about immigration.