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

Governor in tight political spot on illegal immigration  | ajc.com

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, pskinner@ajc.com Gov. Nathan Deal is taking heat for urging caution in some illegal immigration legislation the state is considering.

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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.”

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One Comment to “2/24 – AJC – Governor in tight political spot on illegal immigration | ajc.com”

  1. I see a lot of focus on economics, but no focus whatsoever on a Christian approach to immigration reform. I recognize and accept wholeheartedly that there are Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, people of many other beliefs, agnostics, and atheists in Georgia. Living in the midst of the Bible Belt, however, I assume that most Georgians are at least nominally Christian. Therefore, I would have expected that much more attention would be paid to Matt. 25:31-46, and especially to v. 35 “I was a stranger and you welcomed Me” and v. 40 “as often as you did it to one of My least brethren, you did it to Me.”

    If we Georgians do not act on our beliefs from Monday through Saturday, what good is it to go to church on Sunday? I firmly believe that Jesus meant exactly what He said. We CANNOT love Him and reject His brothers and sisters, fellow children of His and our Father.

    In addition, it is not the job of Georgia nor any other state to do the Federal Government’s work. Instead of passing punitive laws at the state level, I propose that we press our Congressional Senators and Representatives in Washington to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform that respects the contributions of immigrants (including those that are undocumented) to our economy and provides those who have made those contributions with a legal process to become American citizens and fully participate in American life. If our General Assembly were to pass such a resolution and our Governor would sign it, I believe that other states would follow suit, and Washington would respond to the demand.

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