The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Mexican ambassador to the United States on Wednesday condemned legislation targeting illegal immigration in Georgia, saying it is “poisoning” the relationship between the two countries.
Kent D. Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan visited with Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters and editors on Wednesday. He was critical of Georgia legislation.
Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan suggested such bills also could produce unintended consequences, including racial profiling, human rights violations and damage to the economy.
He argued Mexican immigrants cross the border for jobs, not to give birth or take advantage of U.S. hospitals and schools. Meanwhile, he spoke against a congressional effort to deny automatic U.S. citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, calling the measure a “red herring.”
Sarukhan met with AJC reporters and editors just two days before tough Arizona-style legislation aimed at illegal immigrants is scheduled to get its first hearing in Georgia. Also on Wednesday, state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, filed new legislation meant to block employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
In an hourlong interview, Sarukhan underscored longstanding business ties between Mexico and Georgia, robust trade between his country and the United States and the cooperation that is needed between the two countries to cut persistent drug violence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
At times, the career diplomat spoke forcefully about Georgia and other states’ attempts to crack down on illegal immigration.
Some Georgia lawmakers say the state needs to take action because the federal government has failed to secure the nation’s borders. Critics, however, have warned that some of Georgia’s legislation could harm the state’s economy, particularly its $65 billion agricultural industry, which relies heavily on migrant labor. Sarukhan alluded to the importance of that industry several times Wednesday.
“Some of these initiatives are poisoning the wellspring of the bonds that tie our two countries together,” Sarukhan said in response to questions about Georgia’s bills. “What our citizens on both sides of the border need to understand is that getting this equation right could be one of the most powerful tools for job creation, economic growth and North American competitiveness in the next decade.”
Sarukhan singled out Georgia’s SB7, a bill aimed at stopping illegal immigrants from collecting workers’ compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries. He said the bill violates “any and all international conventions on labor rights and human rights.”
“In this state, in this city — the cradle of the civil rights movement — to see a bill like this enacted and passed I think would be extremely troubling,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Bill Heath, issued a statement in response to the ambassador’s comments.
“I do not believe this bill violates any labor rights or human rights,” Heath said. “This bill is aimed at lawbreaking people who cannot legally work in the United States. It is an incongruity that people who are not legally allowed to work here still receive benefits that are aimed toward people who are working legally.”
Sarukhan also criticized HB87, which is scheduled to have its first hearing before the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Friday. The bill would require state and local law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of certain people they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally.
“We are concerned that some of this local or state legislation could lead down a slippery slope of racial profiling,” Sarukhan said.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey, said his legislation includes protections against racial profiling. Ramsey also cited a report released this week by the Pew Hispanic Center that estimated there are 425,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia.
“With respect to the state of Georgia and our local governments, I think he is flat wrong,” Ramsey said of Sarukhan.
Illegal immigration, he said, “is an extreme burden on our educational system, on our social services, on our transportation infrastructure, on our law enforcement community.”
The Pew Hispanic Center report cited a drop in illegal immigrants from Mexico. Last year, an estimated 6.5 million illegal immigrants from Mexico were in the United States, which is down from 7 million in 2007, the report said. Sarukhan attributed the drop to the recession.
“For someone who profoundly disagrees with the urban myth that they are coming here to ‘drop babies’ and take and abuse health and education services,” Sarukhan said, “those numbers reflect one powerful truth — immigrants come in search of a job. If there are not jobs to be had, they don’t come. Period.”