Sometimes, the way you do things communicates a lot.
For example, even though calls continue for Gov. Nathan Deal to veto House Bill 87, the highly controversial illegal immigration bill passed last month by the Legislature, Deal has made it clear that he intends to sign the measure into law.
However, Deal’s staff has not announced when, or how, that signing will take place. So I’m a bit curious: Will he sign it proudly, or reluctantly? Will he embrace the bill as its champion, or merely accept its passage as a political necessity and move on?
With major pieces of legislation, governors will typically assemble legislative sponsors, supportive political groups and others to witness the signing of the bill into law in front of the TV cameras, with lots of smiles and footage for the evening news. In this case, immigration reform has long been a Republican goal in Georgia, and Deal himself has advocated a harsher line against illegal immigration both as a congressman and later as a gubernatorial candidate.
All of that argues for a high-profile signing ceremony, with a proud and beaming governor eager to take credit for a major conservative accomplishment.
On the other hand, a good chunk of the state’s business community, and in particular the South Georgia agriculture industry, fought hard against the bill’s passage. The bill is already drawing national attention for its harsh approach, inspiring calls for boycotts of Georgia by convention planners and others. Georgia’s international business community, from Kia to Coca Cola, also can’t be happy about the bill and the passions that have driven it.
In fact, at the end of this week, Deal is scheduled to travel to Europe on an economic development mission in which he will try to attract overseas investment and jobs to the state. A high-profile signing ceremony may give him more baggage than he can comfortably carry on such a trip.
If that’s the line of thought that wins out, Deal will sign the bill quietly. A press release will go out, announcing that the deed has been done and the law is now officially on the books, and that will be that.
However it’s enacted, the law is likely to be enforced with a similar ambivalence. Certain provisions are indeed harsh and are likely to be prosecuted harshly. An illegal immigrant who uses false identification to get a job faces as much as 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for a first offense of “aggravated identity fraud,” and you’ll probably see a few arrests and convictions for that crime from prosecutors out to make a name.
Provisions attempting to ensure that illegal immigrants are not employed on government projects are also tightly written and will probably prove effective, which is fine.
The most controversial sections of the bill, however, require businesses that employ 10 or more workers to state that they have access to and use the federal E-Verify system to ensure that potential workers are indeed in the United States legally and have the right to work here. If you’ve paid attention to how the immigration debate has gone over the years, you won’t be surprised to learn that the portion of the law dealing with employers has little teeth, no real enforcement mechanism and thus very little chance of being effective.
Is the Georgia State Patrol, already one of the most overstretched law-enforcement agencies in the country, going to divert scarce manpower to raid workplaces and farms? Will county sheriffs take up that duty? Will district attorneys or the state attorney general file charges against major employers who file the necessary paperwork, but don’t carry out their obligations?
The answers are no, no, no and no.