From Blogs.AJC.com, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Your morning jolt: Shifting from stick to carrot on illegal immigration” by Jim Galloway, 1 Apr 2011.
With the Legislature leaving early for a 10-day break, illegal immigration is one of those issues left in the lurch.
HB 87 failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote, after substantial committee changes. Which means no conference committee action is possible until the General Assembly returns on April 11.
But signs have been tossed around this week, indicating that we may be headed toward a resolution of the debate’s trickiest proposition.
The argument in the state Capitol has never focused on giving local law enforcement the power to ask for proof of U.S. citizenship. That has always been a given among the Republican lawmakers in charge.
The meat of the conflict has been over how to bring pressure on Georgia businesses to stop hiring illegal immigration. Agricultural concerns have all but said that crops won’t be able to make it out of the field without that cheap and plentiful labor force.
HB 87 originally contained penalties for businesses that don’t enroll in the federal E-Verify program, which ascertains whether a potential hire is a legal U.S. resident. A Senate version originally required businesses to use E-Verify, but included no penalties.
But when the Senate Judiciary Committee made its changes to HB 87 this week, my AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon caught this:
The committee added a provision that says employers would not be eligible for certain state income tax breaks unless they use a federal work authorization program called E-Verify.
A business – or a farm — wouldn’t be forced to close if it chooses not to screen its workers, but it would take a tax hit. An incentive to comply, rather than a directive.
Another hint came from Gov. Nathan Deal who, in a quick interview this week with Denis O’Hayer of WABE (90.1FM), addressed federal programs to bring in foreign workers. Said Deal:
”I’ve always maintained that the state of Georgia, like many states, could use a very good guest worker program.
Unfortunately, that has not been forthcoming from Congress, and it is something that only Congress can initiate. States don’t have the authority to do that, because we don’t control the ultimate issue of [the] right to enter this country.
“So I will be one of those who will continue to urge those at the federal level to pass a meaningful guest worker program that would help the concerns of our agriculture community in the state of Georgia.”
O’Hayer asked if Deal thought the H-2 visa program now in place works. Replied the governor:
“The H-2B is a quota system, and the quota is rapidly consumed. The H-2A program has become very difficult and cumbersome, and for small producers is not really an effective program for them, because of all the complications and requirements of the program…”
One could interpret the governor’s remarks as saying that current federal worker programs can’t supply the labor needed by Georgia farmers if the state adopts a hard-fisted approach.
O’Hayer also interviewed illegal immigration activist D.A. King, who said this:
”The concept that the H-2A visa is somehow inconvenient for the farmers in south Georgia really means it’s too expensive to hire legal labor in Georgia….I am astounded at the governor’s remarks. We have plenty of guest workers in this country.”
On a related note, immigration lawyer Charles Kuck, who calls himself the “token Republican” on the governing board of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, has been reading through illegal immigration legislation now lodged in the House.
Kuck says he’s found a new provision that he says would permit those convicted of harboring or transporting illegal aliens to be convicted on hearsay evidence. Check it out here.