From Online.WSJ.com, The Wall Street Journal, Arian Campo-Flores, 15 Apr 2011.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said on Friday he would sign into law an Arizona-style immigration bill, a move that would thrust his state into the center of the national debate over securing the country’s borders.
The measure “fulfills his campaign promise to crack down on the high expenses that state and local governments here incur because of illegal immigration,” spokesman Brian Robinson said in an emailed statement.
Voicing a frustration echoed by other governors, the statement added that it is the federal government’s responsibility to “protect our borders and enforce visa and citizenship issues. It’s past time that happen.”
The bill would, among other provisions, allow police to check the immigration status of certain suspects and require many businesses to verify that employees are eligible to work in the country.
Supporters say it would help Georgia root out the state’s undocumented population—estimated at 425,000 by the Pew Hispanic Center—that they believe competes unfairly with legal workers.
“Illegal immigration is destroying Georgia,” said D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, a group that opposes undocumented immigration and backs the bill. “It is lowering our wages, and it is a huge drain on our already inadequate budget dollars.”
Opposition to the measure has been intense. Business groups argue that it would sully the state’s image nationally and discourage employers. They also worry that the employment verification system—requiring employers to check prospective workers’ paperwork against a federal database known as E-Verify—would prove costly and burdensome.
Last-minute changes to the bill satisfied some concerns expressed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said spokeswoman Joselyn Baker. Lawmakers agreed to exempt businesses with 10 or fewer employees from the requirement to check workers’ employment status.
Farmers claim that the bill would drive out immigrant laborers—both legal and illegal—upon whom they depend to pick fruit and harvest cotton. And civil and immigrant rights groups say the measure would lead to racial profiling.
It will “create an extremely hostile environment in Georgia,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “Georgia is seen as the home of the civil rights movement … The irony is that the state will be working against civil rights.”
Georgia is one of 30 states that are considering immigration-related proposals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Others include Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina.
As in many other states across the country, Georgia’s Hispanic population is experiencing dramatic growth, and that’s part of what’s driving lawmakers to act, said Debra Sabia, a political-science professor at Georgia Southern University. That population nearly doubled, to 853,000, in the past decade, according to the 2010 census.
“The fact is, Georgians have had little experience in assimilating immigrants,” she said, “and the rapid growth of the Hispanic community hasn’t helped that disquiet.”
Latino and immigrant rights groups are vowing to call for boycotts of the state, just as they did in response to the law passed in Arizona.
There, many business associations canceled their convention plans in the state. Mr. Gonzalez argues that the same could happen to Georgia. “It will be an economic disaster,” he said.
The measure also faces likely legal challenges. “We believe this is an unconstitutional measure,” said Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter. If it passes, “we will examine all the options,” including litigation.
A federal appeals court Monday upheld a freeze on key provisions of an Arizona law designed to rein in illegal immigration, which is being challenged by the Obama administration.
The injunction came last year after the U.S. Justice Department sued the border state to halt the law, arguing that enforcing immigration is a federal responsibility. Monday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the Arizona law likely violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause, suggesting the federal government could win its case against the state.
In Georgia, Rep. Matt Ramsey, the author of the immigration bill, says he was careful to avoid some of the more controversial language in Arizona’s law.
The Arizona measure requires police to check the immigration status of an individual, detained in a lawful stop, who they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be undocumented.
In Mr. Ramsey’s legislation, police may only check the immigration status of suspects who are under investigation for criminal offenses. Moreover, his bill lacks a provision in the Arizona law—one that made it a state crime for non-citizens not to carry their papers.
“We’re very confident from a constitutional standpoint,” said Mr. Ramsey.
—Miriam Jordan contributed to this article.
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