The ACLU of Georgia is calling on the state to maintain civil liberties and ensure equal treatment for the uninsured, undocumented immigrants and other “vulnerable populations” during increasing restrictions responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The call came March 16 as Gov. Brian Kemp gained temporary, wide-ranging emergency powers under state law, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, including the ability to declare quarantine zones, order evacuations, commandeer private property and ban sales of alcohol and guns, among others. The same day, Atlanta banned public gatherings of 50 or more people, and the city of Brookhaven prohibited bars, restaurants and entertainment venues from serving in-house customers. 

“Any response to the coronavirus should be grounded in science and public health,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, in a press release. “We are glad to discuss with the governor and commissioner how they can keep the public safe while preserving the liberties that are the foundation of American ideals and our democratic system of government.” 

In a letter to Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, the ACLU of Georgia made several suggestions: 

  • “Ensure that any limitations on people’s movements are supported by science and proportional to the threat.” The ACLU of Georgia suggests that quarantines be voluntary “to the extent possible” in line with scientific evidence, and that legal appeal options are made clear. “Keep in mind that individuals have a due process right to challenge a quarantine order,” the letter said. 
  • Keep the public informed on various channels, both online and offline, and in “the top languages spoken in Georgia.” 
  • “Protect vulnerable populations” by making testing and other responses available to everyone “regardless of whether they have health insurance.” 
  • Protect prisoners and those working in jails and prisons, who have fewer isolation and prevention options. The ACLU of Georgia also called for the release of anyone jailed on pre-trial detention “because of unaffordable cash bail.” 
  • Ensure that everyone will feel safe getting tested or visiting medical services regardless of their immigration status. “Health care facilities should be declared and publicized as safe zones, where no immigration enforcement will take place,” the letter said. “It is in the best interests of Georgians that all people present in the state feel confident that they can come forward to be tested.” 
  • “Ensure that people who are sick can afford to stay home.” That includes encouraging employers to offer sick leave and “other supportive measures,” and to provide “emergency assistance to workers impacted by the virus.” 

To read the full letter, click here.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.