Gainesville City Council is considering requiring all alcoholic beverage license applicants to prove their legal status in the United States.
The new policy, if implemented, would verify all applicants’ legal residency through the Department of Homeland Security, and applicants giving false information could face felony charges.
Council began discussing changes after City Attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour reviewed it, and said current policy did not guarantee that applicants are legal residents.
"My understanding is that they don’t check it through the whole system," Palmour told the council at Thursday’s work session.
Debbie Jones, senior deputy marshal for the city, said current procedure allows marshals to check applicants’ legal status, but not to the extent that the council has proposed.
Jones said the office gets a copy of noncitizen applicants’ passports, naturalization papers or resident alien cards. She said the resident alien cards have an expiration date and a barcode with a small metallic strip that has a picture of every president of the United States that she looks at to check the cards’ authenticity.
"Those cards are pretty good," Jones said. "I’m not an expert, but those are really hard to duplicate or send false ones."
The proposed policy as Palmour advised would require applicants who are not U.S. citizens to provide similar documents proving legal residency, and sign a document swearing to their legal residency. The city would then verify that document through the Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement Program under the Department of Homeland Security.
However, the verification process could take a considerable length of time, perhaps years, according to a letter from Palmour to the council.
To keep legal residents from waiting so long for confirmation, those providing a document that proves their legal status — such as a Georgia driver’s license, a U.S. birth certificate, a resident or domestic resident card or a Social Security card — could operate with a liquor license in the mean time. If applicants cannot provide such documentation, then they will have to wait for Homeland Security to confirm their legal status.
If the verification process shows that an applicant lied about his or her legal residency, then the applicant could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to five years.
Now, Jones said that if an applicant gives false information, the marshal’s office can take him or her to court and have the beverage license revoked. She said she has only had one license revoked due to an applicant’s failure to disclose correct information in the past year, and it did not have anything to do with an illegal immigrant.
Councilman George Wangemann said that, as he understood the current application process for alcoholic beverage licenses, anyone can get one as long as they pass the criminal background check.
Wangemann said he would like to see Palmour’s proposed changes implemented.
"If someone is illegal, then how can you trust they’re going to abide by the alcoholic beverage laws?" Wangemann said. "Usually one illegality runs into the other."
Thursday, Palmour asked the council if it wanted him to implement the new procedure. The council said yes, but Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras asked for Palmour to meet with the marshal’s office before the council voted on the changes.
Palmour said that he has not yet discussed the changes with the city’s Chief Marshal, Chuck Smith, and would not comment further about the changes until then.