(APN) ATLANTA — Over 8,000 activists rallied outside the State Capitol on Thursday, March 24, 2011, to show their outrage and disgust over Georgia’s Arizona-type immigration bills.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, legislation, HB 87, has already passed the State House. A similar bill, SB 40, has also passed the State Senate.
While the vast majority of protesters at the Capitol were Hispanic, opposition to the bills came from a wide spectrum of constituents including immigrants, students, religious groups, peace groups, veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, Asian groups, GLBTQI activists, labor, artists, musicians, business owners, elected officials, and others.
“Thousands of Georgia immigrants and allies came together today to say no more to racial profiling and no more to the dangerous and unfair targeting of immigrant communities and communities of color,” Adelina Nicholls, Director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and one of the rally’s central organizers, said in a statement. The business community, as well as the rally participants, hope to convince Governor Nathan Deal to veto the bill when it comes to his desk
“It makes no sense that Governor Deal seems intent on supporting legislation that will bankrupt the state – both morally and financially. We call on him to veto such misguided policy,” Nicholls said.
There were various estimates of how many people participated in the rally. Based on an analysis of the square footage on Washington Street in front of the Capitol by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper’s Political Insider blog, and based upon the fact that activists were packed into the space like sardines, APN concludes there were over 8,000 activists present. Capitol police put the estimate at about 5,000, while Republican legislators said it was only a few hundred.
State Reps. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), Alex Atwood (R-Brunswick), Allen Peake (R-Macon), Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) released the following joint statement: “Today several hundred supporters of illegal immigration descended on the Georgia State Capitol to rail against legislation aimed at enforcing the rule of law in Georgia.”
“In contrast to these angry sign waiving activists, there are millions of Georgia citizens working and raising their families, who no longer are willing to accept the loss of job opportunities to the nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state or to subsidize their presence with their hard earned tax dollars. We are the voice for these common sense Georgians and this kind of protest only bolsters our resolve to see House Bill 87 signed into law,” they wrote.
Opponents of the bills are concerned that it will have a negative impact of Georgia’s economic growth and fear it will lead to racial profiling of immigrants andothers.
“We want to make the Capitol walls tremble, so we can send a message to the legislators and the Governor that what they are doing is not right,” State Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Norcross) told APN in an English translation of his speech to the protesters.
The crowd enthusiastically shouted, “Si, Se Puede,” or “Yes It Can Be Done,” after every speaker. The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Georgia-based folk rock music duo, sang “Shame on You” to loud applause from the rally.
Lyrics from the song include: “Let’s go road block trippin in the middle of the night up in Gainesville town// There’ll be blue lights flashin down the long dirt road when they ask us to step out// They say we be looking for illegal immigrants can we check your car// I say you know it’s funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694.”
Both Georgia bills authorize all law enforcement officials to investigate the immigration status of anyone they have “probable cause” to believe has committed a criminal offense, including traffic violations.
Other provisions mandate vehicle confiscation, fines and/or jail time for transporting an “illegal alien” in a motor vehicle. [Good luck to MARTA on this one.]
HB 87 allows Georgia residents to sue state and local government agencies they believe are not enforcing the law. This could lead to a vigilante environment with anti-immigration activists suing every governmental agency in the state.
“We will stand and fight until we kill these vicious anti-immigration bills. The business community understands the bills will kill Georgia’s economy. Georgia cannot operate without the immigrant work force,” State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said.
Some of the reasons expressed by State Rep. Ramsey for drafting the bill include the belief that undocumented immigrants are using public benefits. Ramsey cites the cost of illegal immigration in Georgia at 2.5 billion dollars per year.
“Ramsey is unwilling to acknowledge that the presence of undocumented workers and their families, contributed more than $400 million in direct taxes and more than $10 billion in economic output,” Charles Kuck, an immigration expert, states on his blog.
According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, food stamps, social security, supplemental security income, temporary assistance for needy families, full-scope Medicaid, Medicare premium free part A, PeachCare for children, and HUD public housing and section 8 programs are simply not available to undocumented immigrants by existing law.
Undocumented immigrants do qualify for K-12 public education and emergency medial care.
The 2.5 billion dollar statistic comes from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which, as previously reported by APN, is considered a hate group with ties to White supremacist groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
“We are here for two reasons today. We deserve and demand dignity and respect for without our immigrant community Georgia does not work. It is the immigrant labor, in the agriculture industry, that produces 68 billion dollars for Georgia,” Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said. “It is time to move past politics and division – time to create jobs instead of killing jobs,” Gonzalez said.
Estimates suggest that implementing HB 87 could cost over 400 million dollars in diverted law enforcement resources, detention beds, and foster care cost.
To separate children from their families is unconscionable, activists argue, and will cause psychological trauma and damage to those children.
Arizona so far has lost 140 million dollars as a result of its SB 1070. The Center for American Progress expects that loss to increase to 750 million.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) was a man of only one word: “Boycott!” The crowd screamed back boycott, Si Se Puede, boycott!
Often overlooked in the immigration debate is the influence of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in lobbying elected officials to support anti-immigration bills and in helping to draft Arizona’s SB 1070. APN previously reported on these connections, with CCA lobbyists currently working the halls of the Georgia Capitol.
“The private prison corporations that make money off of immigrants are behind these bills,” Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project of American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said. “Do we want Georgia to be known as a state friendly to CCA or a state friendly to immigrants?”
CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to their for-profit private prisons.
“There is nothing more powerful than a committed and determined people. You must not give up. You must not give in. You must to everything possible to keep this bill from passing,” the legendary US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said. “There are no illegal human beings. We do not want Arizona type legislation in Georgia.”
“Immigration is an issue for the national government not the government of the State of Georgia,” Lewis said. “If you are arrested, I will get arrested and go to jail with you. The jails in Georgia are not large enough to hold all of us,” Lewis promised.