Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011

2/28 – ACTION ITEM: Call or Email: What Happens in Arizona, Must Stop in Arizona!

Please take 5 minutes TODAY for immigrant justice and human dignity.

Background:  The GA legislature has introduced several pieces of anti-immigrant legislation, including Arizona copy cat bills, HB 87 and SB 40.  Just this morning, the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee passed HB 87 out of committee, which means a vote on the House Floor is imminent. HB 59—which would deny public higher education to undocumented students—is also going to the House floor soon for a vote. We need as many people to make calls, calls, and more calls, as well as emails, emails, and more emails, to ask our elected leaders to put an end to this scapegoating and immigrant bashing.

Please take 5 minutes to call and email the people below and urge them to do the right thing.  Our goal today and tomorrow is to get 1,000 calls and emails in.  Can you help us reach this goal?

Thank you for taking action…and stay tuned for more actions to come!

Contact the Governor, Lt Governor and House Speaker. They all hold a lot of influence in stopping these bills.

Governor Nathan Deal

(404) 656-1776


“I urge you to use your leadership as Governor of Georgia to secure a “No” Vote on the Arizona Copycat bills, HB 87, SB 40 and all other anti-immigrant legislation, including HB 59. These bills are making Georgia look bad in the eyes of the country and the world.  Any legislation that leads to racial profiling or pushes immigrant workers out of Georgia, will harm our state economically and morally.  What happens in Arizona must stop in Arizona.  As a Georgia resident, I urge you to stop these anti-immigrant bills and to commit to veto any such legislation that reaches your desk.  Can we count on your commitment to do so?”

House Speaker David Ralston

(404) 656-5020

Email his Chief of Staff, Spiro Amburn:

“I urge you to use your leadership as House Speaker to secure a “No” Vote on the Arizona Copycat, HB 87, and all other anti-immigrant legislation.  These bills are making Georgia look bad in the eyes of the country and the world.  Any legislation that leads to racial profiling or pushes immigrant workers out of Georgia, will harm our state economically and morally.  What starts in Arizona must stop in Arizona.  As a Georgia resident, I urge you to stop these anti-immigrant bills.

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle

(404) 656-5030


“I urge you to use your leadership as Lieutenant Governor of Georgia to secure a “No” Vote on the Arizona Copycat bill, SB 40 and all other anti-immigrant legislation. These bills are making Georgia look bad in the eyes of the country and the world.  Any legislation that leads to racial profiling or pushes immigrant workers out of Georgia, will harm our state economically and morally.  What starts in Arizona must stop in Arizona.  As a Georgia resident, I urge you to stop these anti-immigrant bills. ”

February 25, 2011

2/23 – AJC – Murphy introduces softer bill targeting illegal immigration |

Murphy introduces softer bill targeting illegal immigration  |

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Republican state senator has introduced a much softer version of his legislation targeting illegal immigration.

Sen. Jack Murphy’s Senate Bill 40 no longer includes penalties for certain private businesses that do not use the federal E-Verify program. That program seeks to verify newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

He said he would also amend the bill to exempt businesses with four or fewer employees from a requirement to use E-Verify. His original bill exempted only businesses that participate in federal guest worker programs. An exemption is still in place in the new bill for businesses that hire temporary agricultural workers through the federal H-2A visa program.

Murphy also added language to his bill that says government officials could face punishment for the “intentional and knowing failure” to comply with existing E-Verify requirements for certain government contractors. Murphy said he added that language so that government officials would not be punished for honest mistakes.

“The intent of the bill is to get [businesses] to use E-Verify, not to be punitive,” Murphy, R-Cumming, said in an interview Wednesday before introducing his substitute legislation before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, is revising a similar bill that could soon come up for a House committee vote.

February 25, 2011

2/24 – AJC – Governor in tight political spot on illegal immigration |

Governor in tight political spot on illegal immigration  |

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nathan Deal fought hard against illegal immigration when he served in Congress. And when the Republican ran for governor last year, he campaigned on bringing a tough Arizona-style law to Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal is taking heat for urging caution in some illegal immigration legislation the state is considering.

Phil Skinner, Gov. Nathan Deal is taking heat for urging caution in some illegal immigration legislation the state is considering.


Now governor, he is urging caution as the Legislature considers such a crackdown. He said he doesn’t want to put an “undue burden” on employers who would have to abide by certain requirements in the bills pending in the state Capitol.

Those comments are causing some critics to worry Deal could flip-flop under pressure from business groups. A spokesman for Deal said Thursday the governor remains committed to fighting illegal immigration but is focused on other priorities, including closing a massive state budget shortfall and overhauling the state’s pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarship programs.

Local supporters of the immigration bills have mounted a campaign to call Deal’s office and urge him to stick to his campaign promises. And in a blog published on the National Review’s website this week, the head of a Washington-based group that advocates for tighter immigration controls called Deal’s recent comments “weaselly equivocation.”

Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote of Deal: “He hasn’t sold out yet, but this kind of stalling and evasion highlights the need for eternal vigilance, whoever the politician and whatever the issue.”

A spokesman for Deal said it is too early in the session for the governor to take a position on pending legislation such as House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40, adding that they could change drastically in the coming weeks. Deal, meanwhile, wants to curb illegal immigration in Georgia but in a way that would avoid unnecessary and costly court challenges, said his spokesman, Brian Robinson.

Robinson said “there is no governor in the country with a stronger record on fighting illegal immigration than Gov. Nathan Deal. We will put his record up against anybody’s.”

“We have four years to accomplish the governor’s goals,” Robinson continued. “We will do them in a step-by-step, methodical process just as we have handled HOPE, just as we have handled the budget. We will get to things in due time.”

Krikorian was reacting in his blog to comments Deal made this month. Speaking to reporters outside a Georgia Farm Bureau luncheon, Deal sounded some notes of caution concerning the Legislature‘s efforts to fight illegal immigration.

Deal indicated the state has limits in what it could do. And he said he has heard questions about the reliability and accuracy of E-Verify, which would be required for many private employers under some of the pending legislation. The program seeks to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

Yet, when he was serving in Congress, Deal co-sponsored legislation that would require businesses to use E-Verify. Deal still supports the E-Verify concept, his spokesman said Thursday.

Deal also drafted legislation in Congress to block automatic birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Numbers USA, a group that supports lower levels of immigration, gave Deal an A+ rating for his voting record and other actions in Congress.

Deal is in a tough spot politically.

“It’s almost a no-win issue for Deal,” said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist. “There is no way he can satisfy the groups within the Republican Party who are in direct conflict over this issue.”

Some Republicans want to aggressively crack down on the problem. They say illegal immigrants are committing crimes here and straining local jails and public schools. Others fear such efforts could discourage immigrants from moving here, and that could hurt businesses that rely on them for labor.

For example, Georgia’s $68.8 billion agricultural industry — the state’s largest — depends heavily on migrant labor. Deal talked to reporters about the pending legislation moments after speaking at a Georgia Farm Bureau luncheon. At that luncheon, the head of that group said his organization is concerned “legal immigrants might be fearful to work in Georgia if the state seems to be anti-immigrant.”

Other people, such as Bill Hudson, a retired dentist from Marietta and a board member with the Georgia Tea Party, said they aren’t happy with Deal’s recent comments.

“He sounds like he is waffling,” Hudson said. “I voted for him for a number of other reasons but mainly because he campaigned on pro-enforcement of immigration [laws] in this state and that all businesses should be using E-Verify.”

Moving from Washington to Atlanta may have had an effect on Deal, said Black and Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.

“As a member of Congress, he is interested in protecting his district and getting federal dollars to bring back home,” Bullock said. “But once he becomes governor, he has some responsibility for looking out for the economy of the state.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Krikorian suggested Georgia’s business lobby has gotten to Deal.

“It seems that when business lobbyists cracked the whip, he started equivocating,” Krikorian said. “It’s not evidence of a real stiff spine.”

Deal’s spokesman said the governor’s work buttressing the HOPE scholarship program shows his backbone.

“The governor is going to take a tough stand” against illegal immigration, Robinson said. “We understand that some folks are not going to be happy unless he is in jackboots kicking in doors. We don’t think that is the proper role for him to play in this.”

Tom Hensley applauded how Deal has expressed caution about the pending state legislation and E-Verify. Hensley is the president of Fieldale Farms, a northeast Georgia-based chicken processing business that uses E-Verify and has $650 million in annual sales.

Hensley said some of the immigration-related laws already on the books in Georgia have been scaring away the Hispanic workers his business once relied on. Since 2004, the number of his workers who are Hispanic has dropped substantially while his workers’ compensation and health care costs have grown, he said.

“The skill level that we see in folks now and the work ethic is not what we had six and seven years ago,” said Hensley, former chairman of the National Chicken Council, a Washington-based trade group that represents the poultry industry. “We don’t need any more laws on immigration [in Georgia]. I’d like to get rid of the ones we have got.”

February 25, 2011

2/25 – CBS 46 Atlanta – Immigration Bill Targets Schools, Hospitals – CBS Atlanta

POSTED: 6:51 pm EST February 23, 2011
UPDATED: 8:01 am EST February 24, 2011
ATLANTA — Rep. Josh Clark, R-Buford, introduced legislation that would require schools and hospitals to collect data regarding a patient’s immigration status. “Georgians would be able to see how much money is actually spent on illegal immigrants,” Clark said. 

The legislation would require school districts and hospitals to collect and maintain data for research purposes. The information would then be compiled and published on the state board of education’s website and on the Department of Community Health’s website.

“People should not be afraid that seeking emergency care would result in deportation or other consequences,” said Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We believe even requiring parents to report their children immigration status, that by itself would chill parents from seeking public education for their children.”

The legislative policy director for the Georgia Schools Board Association, Angela Palm, feels the bill would also keep children from getting a good education.

“There is a concern that when a parent brings a child to be enrolled, and the district says are you here legally or illegally, they would be inclined not to enroll their children,” Palm said. “I think it would leave schools in a difficult place facing legal challenges and distract them from what their purpose is and that is to educate every child that shows up.”

“This is a way to tell the taxpayers what they are spending on illegal immigrants,” said Clark. “What are the figures? Nobody really has entirely accurate figures. We are not trying to make them immigration enforcers simply when they register their child or go to a hospital. We should know we are actually gathering that information. We’ll simply keep track of that.”

February 24, 2011

2/23 – AJC – Pro & Con: Does Georgia need tougher laws against illegal immigrants? |

Pro & Con: Does Georgia need tougher laws against illegal immigrants?  |

Opinion 7:21 p.m. Wednesday, February 23, 2011

YES: Taxpayers shoulder the costs of undocumented workers.
By Matt Ramsey

In recent weeks, much has been said and written about efforts in the Legislature to enact common-sense state reforms aimed at addressing the issues posed in Georgia by the federal government’s failure to secure our nation’s borders.

One of them is my bill, HB 87, which beefs up enforcement to prevent illegal aliens from getting government benefits and tightens-up what forms of identification can be accepted to receive those benefits. The bill also requires the use of E-Verify by private employers to ensure that job opportunities are protected for those legally eligible to hold them.

Incredibly, the rhetoric being put forth by many opinion writers and special interest groups such as the ACLU fails to ever even acknowledge the devastating social and economic consequences in Georgia resulting from the presence of 425,000 illegal aliens (more than Arizona). The special interests have apparently decided on an opposition strategy based on hysterical and fact-free political scare tactics rather than real debate.

Those who oppose the enforcement of immigration law and support open borders may find the arguments made by opponents of HB 87 compelling. Thankfully, the vast majority of Georgians believe enforcing the rule of law and protecting taxpayer-funded benefits and services for those eligible to receive them, as well as jobs, are critical and necessary goals.

Opponents of HB 87 raise concerns about costs of enforcement, while failing to mention the huge cost borne by taxpayers in subsidizing hundreds of thousands of people in this country in violation of our very liberal immigration laws. One study estimates the total cost to Georgia’s state and local taxpayers is a whopping $2.4 billion per year. The common refrain by the opponents of this legislation that illegal immigration is “solely a federal issue” is patently ridiculous when you consider it is state and local taxpayers who are footing the bill.

Another argument we often hear is that HB 87 will have a detrimental impact on our agriculture industry’s labor pool. This argument is often made without mention of the existing H-2A visa program that provides a legal avenue to import an unlimited number of temporary foreign workers for our ag industry. Beyond that, no one will ever convince me that Georgia’s future economic prosperity depends on those who are in our country illegally.

Perhaps the most misleading rhetoric in this debate has been the attempt to discredit the use of the free, easy and effective employment eligibility verification system known as E-Verify. Statements have been made about the “inaccuracies” inherent in the system. Let me report the facts. Based on FY 2009 data, E-Verify instantly verifies 97.4 percent of all employees as eligible to work. The very small percentage who are not instantly verified are given the right to appeal before an employer can take action. Further, the 16,000 Georgia employers already enrolled in this user-friendly system will tell you it takes a matter of minutes to enroll and adds less than a minute to the hiring process.

Those who rely on illegal labor know that the use of E-Verify will deter illegal employment and they will stop at nothing to prevent its use. Critics of this measure continue to attempt to obscure the simple fact that E-Verify protects jobs for Georgians legally eligible to hold them and that there is absolutely nothing about the use of the program that will prevent a single employer in Georgia, in any industry, from employing a legal work force.

The citizen support for legislation aimed at addressing this issue has been overwhelming, and I encourage Georgians to remain engaged on this critical issue. Georgians should continue to strive to separate fact from fiction. So should many opinion writers.

State Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, is an attorney.

NO: Unconstitutional Arizona-style laws are a bonanza to lawyers.

By Charles H. Kuck

From the perspective of a lifelong Republican, I am always troubled when the state Legislature starts looking at ways to “fix” a problem by getting the government more, rather than less, involved in the lives of its citizens. That is absolutely the case with the pending legislation on immigration. A detailed review of HB 87 and its Senate companion, SB 40, reveals that these bills do not reform illegal immigration, nor do they enforce laws related to illegal immigration.

What they do is increase taxes on every resident of Georgia by increasing government regulation, create unfunded mandates for every county and city in Georgia, and create new private rights of action against every Georgia polity, resulting in hundreds of lawsuits that will drain taxpayer coffers and result in little, if any, real change in illegal immigration.

This legislation is popular because it gives the perception that the state is doing something that the federal government purportedly is not — enforcing federal laws on illegal immigration.

The problem with this notion is twofold.

First, the federal government is doing more than it has ever done in enforcing the laws on undocumented immigration. The Obama administration is spending literally billions of taxpayer dollars building fences, hiring border patrol agents, detaining undocumented immigrants and actually deporting 400,000 people last year, a record.

Second, these proposals do not create any greater degree of enforcement than already exists under state and federal law. By Sept. 30, 2013, everyone arrested in Georgia is going to be run through the Secure Communities program, and if they are unlawfully present in the United States, they are being held for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pick up within 48 hours.

Without discussing the deleterious details of this program (DWH — Driving While Hispanic), it has resulted in a record number of cases filling our immigration court dockets.

So, if these bills do not reform immigration, do not effectively increase enforcement, and do not make Georgia safer, what will they do? They will increase taxes on Georgians, force cities and municipalities to hire previously unnecessary personnel, and make litigation lawyers smile.

These proposals have as their main thrust a desire to make Georgia like Arizona. The bill is designed to make it so hard to live as an undocumented immigrant in Georgia, that such immigrants will leave the state. If this bill accomplishes its purpose it could result in the departure of more than 1 million people, along with their tax money, investments, talent and businesses.

There are also at least two provisions that will never be enforced, and which will be struck down as unconstitutional or pre-empted before they even go into effect, for the same reasons that similar provisions in the Arizona bill were struck down. Those dealing with unconstitutional police stops and nondefinitions of reasonable cause beg for a judge to overturn this law.

The authorizing of private lawsuits against government agencies looks like a lawyer’s full employment act, and business-destroying mandates and penalties best dealt with under federal law will simply shut down businesses and cause greater unemployment.

These proposals are bad public policy and bad for Georgia. If our legislators really want to fix the immigration problem they should all take a day and go to Washington, and demand that Congress fix our immigration system, rather than trying to put a Band-Aid on a gaping shotgun wound.

Charles H. Kuck, an immigration attorney, is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Georgia, and a past national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

February 23, 2011

2/22 – AJC – Georgia bill would require schools, hospitals to count illegal immigrants – Atlanta Journal-Consitution

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

By Jeremy Redmon

Local school and hospital officials in Georgia would be required to count the number of illegal immigrants they serve each year under legislation a Republican state lawmaker filed this month.

Rep. Josh Clark’s House Bill 296 also would require the state Board of Education to tally the expenditures, by school district, for illegal immigrants in kindergarten through 12th grade. That information would be published on the state board’s website.

Similarly, the legislation would require hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities to report how many of their patients are illegal immigrants, what treatment they received, the cost and dates of that treatment and information on if and how they paid for their care. That information would be published annually on the state Department of Community Health’s website.

“Currently, we as policymakers lack an accurate projection of what illegal immigration is costing our state. With this information, we would have a legitimate argument to require the federal government to fulfill their duty to seal our borders or risk lawsuits from states over actual cost inflicted due to their negligence,” Clark, a Republican from Buford, said Tuesday.

The state Board of Education’s rules, however, prohibit school officials from inquiring about the legal status of students in accordance with the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe. That decision said school districts must educate all children regardless of their legal status.

Citing the state Board of Education’s rules, an official with the Georgia School Boards Association questioned the legality of HB 296.

“That would be a new burden, and it would be a troublesome one that could lead to legal challenges that taxpayers would have to pay for,” said Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the association. “We do have serious reservations about it.”

An official from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia blasted HB 296.

“This is a reprehensible attempt to turn teachers and doctors into immigration agents,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project for the ACLU of Georgia.

Shahshahani made those comments at the end of a news conference outside the state Capitol on Tuesday morning. She and others gathered there to show their opposition to several immigration enforcement-related bills now pending in the Statehouse.

Among those who joined Shahshahani at the news conference were state Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta; state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta; and representatives from the Georgia State Conference NAACP, the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. Speakers at the news conference said some of the pending legislation could lead to racial profiling and damage the state’s economy.

February 23, 2011

2/22 – GPB – Rally Opposes Racial Profiling – GPB News

February 22, 2011

By Susan Capelouto



Groups say the immigration bill encourages racial profiling. Groups say they will sue if the bill passes. (Photo by Susanna Capelouto)

Groups opposed to legislation that would affect Georgia’s immigrants rallied at the state capitol today. Latino and civil rights groups are warning that any bill encouraging racial profiling will be fought in court.

Opposition groups worry that Georgia could enact legislation similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law. One proposal currently in committee allows police to check the citizenship status of those they pull over for other offenses. Edward DuBose with the Georgia NAACP spoke at a rally opposing the bill. He says it amounts to racial profiling.

“This type of legislation simply gives law enforcement a license to go after black and brown citizens and it time to stop this measure. We believe it’s unconstitutional,“ DuBose says.

The bill does include language that specifically prohibits racial profiling. But it also empowers law enforcement if they have “reasonable suspicion.” But what’s “reasonable” is not explained. The American Civil Liberties Union says it will sue if the bill passes.

February 23, 2011

2/22 – 11 Alive News – Immigration Debate Heats Up at Georgia Capitol

Posted By –  Paul Crawley
Last Updated On:  2/22/2011 7:08:54 PM

ATLANTA — The debate over Arizona-style immigration reform grew even hotter at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday.

“Georgia will not stand for racial profiling,” the ACLU’s Azadeh Shahshahani proclaimed during a rally on the front steps.

She was one of nearly 100 protestors from various civil and Latino rights groups who characterized a variety of immigration bills as an attack on fundamental American values.

“It’s hard to have a serious debate with people that haven’t even read the bill and are completely mischaracterizing it,” said State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City).

After three committee hearings and several re-writes, he’s still working on HB 87, which would give police the power to check the citizenship status of people they pick up on other crimes. It would also fine governments and private businesses for hiring illegal immigrants.

Bills from other state lawmakers would also deny workers compensation benefits, state college enrollment and require a count of illegal immigrants in all public schools and hospitals.

But opposition isn’t just coming from liberals.

Many Georgia businesses, especially agriculture, are worried about the impact on the state’s work force.

“That’s why the contractors of Georgia are opposing this legislation; that’s why the Georgia Restaurant Association is opposing this legislation,” said State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta).

While lawmakers like Ramsey are catching heat from both sides, he pointed to the public cost of illegal immigration.

“One study estimates as much as $2.4 billion a year,” Rep. Ramsey said. “If we don’t address this issue now, we are completely abdicating our responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer resources here in Georgia.”

Ramsey is trying to write his bill to avoid the kind of legal problems that got portions of Arizona’s immigration law thrown out.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who campaigned heavily against illegal immigration last year, is now urging caution in how any new laws are crafted.

February 23, 2011

2/22 – CBS Atlanta – Immigration Rights Groups Rally At State Capitol – CBS Atlanta

by Ray Arzate, CBS Atlanta Reporter
POSTED: 12:19 pm EST February 22, 2011

People representing several civil and human rights groups stood together at the state Capitol on Tuesday, speaking out in opposition of House Bill 87.
“For the state of Georgia, or any other state, to get in the business of immigration enforcement, is definitely not the right way to go,” said Azadeh Shahshahani with the ACLU.

“I don’t think Georgia needs to be taking this on. I don’t think we need to get in this battle,” said Edward DuBose with the NAACP.

The bill would require employers to verify if a person can legally work in the United States.

“If we have an e-verify law here like we do in Arizona, then most people in the country illegally are going to migrate out. We’re trying to cut off the chops,” said D.A. King, a supporter of the bill.

The bill would also allow law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

“You are not going to solve the problem by taking people and throwing them out of the country,” said DuBose.

King said that those opposing the bill Tuesday morning were “race baiters.”

“They play the race card, as if immigration law is only applied to a particular group. They’re not fooling anyone, the race card is not fooling anyone,” said King.

“It’s not about race baiting; it’s about human rights,” said DuBose.

“Illegal is not a race, it’s a crime,” said King.

“Georgia will not stand for racial profiling legislation and for discriminatory bills that will turn Georgia into show me your papers territory,” said Shahshahani.

While illegal immigration is a heated debate, there was one thing both sides did agree on.

“There definitely does need to be immigration reform,” said Shahshahani.

Summary of the bill:

2011-2012 Regular Session – HB 87
Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011; enact

“A BILL to be entitled an Act to enact the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011”; to amend the O.C.G.A., so as to provide for definitions; to provide for a private cause of action; to require private employers to use an employment eligibility verification system and provide for civil penalties; to provide for offenses; to provide for the investigation of illegal alien status; to provide authority for law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws and to provide immunity; to provide for civil and criminal penalties; to modify provisions relating to training peace officers; to establish grant funding; to provide for the verification of the immigration status of foreign nationals; to provide that counties shall receive additional funding for confinement of state inmates; to require proof that private businesses are participating in the employment eligibility verification system; to provide for identification cards; to enact the “Secure and Verifiable Identity Document Act”; to provide for related matters; and for other purposes.”

February 23, 2011

2/23 – Gainesville Times – Immigration hearing draws complaints about proposed laws – Gainesville Times

By Melissa Weinman

POSTED: February 23, 2011 2:07 a.m.

A Senate committee on immigration heard hours of impassioned testimony Tuesday about how proposed immigration legislation would adversely affect the business community.

A room mostly filled with opponents of the immigration bills in the Georgia House and Senate spoke to the five senators on the committee about how immigration legislation would worsen the economy and create difficulties for Latinos.

The Georgia General Assembly is looking at legislation similar to the controversial Arizona
immigration law.

The bills propose strengthening the enforcement of federal immigration programs; giving incentives to state and local police to participate in federal immigration enforcement programs such as 287(g), which allows local officials to check the immigration status of those arrested for other crimes; and punishing people who encourage illegal immigrants to enter Georgia and then transport or conceal them when they arrive.

The hearing was a regional one that drew people from throughout the metro Atlanta area and North Georgia.

Tom Hensley, president of poultry company Fieldale Farms Corp. that has locations in North Georgia, told the Senate Special Committee on Immigration and Georgia’s Economy that 287(g) already had a detrimental effect on the poultry industry in Hall County that would only be worsened by statewide legislation.

Hensley said despite using measures to ensure the company hired documented workers, the anti-immigrant climate in the state has driven the Latino workers he depended on away from his business.

“We were 67 percent Hispanic in 2004. Our turnover was 25 percent. Our workers (compensation) cost was $50,000 a month. Our health care cost for the whole year was $8 million. It was about that time that the federal, state and local governments let it be known that these folks are not welcome,” Hensley said.

“Fast forward to 2010, we’re about 33 percent Hispanic now. Our turnover is 75 percent. Workers comp costs are $150,000 a month. Our health care last year was $20 million. Those are staggering numbers, but that’s the economic reality.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform in this country. It has to be a federal program, not the state … you can’t have 50 different laws in 50 different states. I implore you, don’t pass any more laws.”

Many people shared their stories of how recent discussions on immigration have created a hostile environment for Latinos.

Laura Murvartian of Sandy Springs said she came to the U.S. illegally with her parents from Mexico when she was age 8. She grew up working in chicken plants before she was able to get a bachelor’s degree and become a citizen.

She said immigration rhetoric has made her feel uncomfortable, even though she is a citizen.

“My 9-year old son is asthmatic. When I take him to emergency room at 3 in the morning, I feel judged,” she said, referring to the stares from people who is assume she is in the country illegally.

Murvartian said despite owning several businesses in Georgia, she and her family will move away if the proposed legislation becomes law.

“I feel it is a personal attack on people like me,” she said. “I feel it is my duty to stand up and speak for those who are currently in an illegal situation today as I was 30 years ago.”

Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso said undocumented immigrants are a pillar of the Hall County economy.

“There have been frequent calls to my law office. Once, every two weeks, a well-known, Anglo-American business owner of significant wealth calls me and asks me how they can go about legalizing their employees,” Corso said.

“The truth is, they really can’t. There is a great myth that there is a legal path to come to the U.S. There is no lawful path to come to the U.S. if you are a Mexican.”

Corso told senators there is a 15-year backlog for Mexicans hoping to get enter the U.S. legally.

Others came out to show their support of tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

Lennie Baker, who moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands, spoke in favor of local immigration laws.

“I think it starts on the local level. The feds? We’ve seen what a mess they’ve made of everything. So I don’t think they’re going to do any better,” she said. “I have not heard one person mention the taxpayers’ cost for all these illegal immigrants. There’s only so much money to go around. To hit the taxpayers up for all these illegal expenses is wrong.”

The senators on the committee said they were impressed by the turnout of nearly 300 and heard valuable information from those spoke at the hearing.

“I was impressed we had actual members of the business community show up. So often you just get activists,” said Sen. Curt Thompson, chairman of the committee.

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