Georgia Politics 8:22 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A group of 270 farmers and other businessmen mostly representing Georgia’s agricultural and landscaping industries is warning lawmakers about the impact their immigration enforcement legislation could have on the state’s economy.
LOUIE FAVORITE, AJC 270 farmers and other businessmen mostly representing Georgia’s agricultural and landscaping industries are warning lawmakers about the impact their immigration enforcement legislation could have.
In a letter delivered to the lawmakers Monday, the group raised concerns that proposals to give police greater power to question suspected illegal immigrants and to require business to verify the immigration status of new employees could harm the state’s tourism and convention industry and make it more costly for them to do business.
The sponsor of one of the immigration bills said Monday he had not yet read the letter, but he dismissed it as a “scare tactic.”
Parts of Georgia’s $68.8 billion agricultural industry have issued similar warnings in recent weeks, but Monday’s letter is their strongest and most unified yet.
Scores of vegetable and fruit farmers, landscapers and agricultural industry representatives signed the letter. Among them are Zippy Duvall, president of the Georgia Farm Bureau; Bryan Tolar, president Georgia Agribusiness Council; and Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Georgia Urban Ag Council.
“We must also weigh the unintended potential cost of losing major conventions, tourism, and international business opportunities,” the letter says. “We urge you to consider the message we send to the foreign investors and workers that are vital to our success on the global stage.”
Tolar said Monday other Georgia industries are discussing sending similar letters to lawmakers this week.
Georgia lawmakers are weighing two immigration enforcement measures, House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40. Both measures would empower police to question certain suspects about their immigration status. The bills would also require many businesses to use a free federal program called E-Verify to confirm their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.
The letter cited an estimate that employers nationwide spent $95 million last year complying with the E-Verify system. “Mandating the E-Verify program will harm Georgia’s economy, not enhance it,” the letter says.
Republican Rep. Matt Ramseyof Peachtree City, who is sponsoring HB 87, dismissed the critics’ concerns about the potential costs of his legislation and underscored that E-Verify is a free federal program. Ramsey has repeatedly complained that illegal immigrants are burdening taxpayer-funded resources in Georgia, including the state’s public schools and jails.
“This is the same stuff that these special interests lobbyists have been saying from day one,” Ramsey said of the letter, noting that he had not yet read it Monday.
Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, the author of SB 40, could not be reached for comment Monday.
HB 87 and SB 40 are partly patterned after a measure Arizona enacted last year. About 40 conventions planned for that state have been canceled or relocated since the law was enacted, according to the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association.
Last month, dozens of corporate executives — including representatives from US Airways Group, Intel Corp. and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona — signed a letter noting the boycotts and urging Arizona lawmakers not to pass any new laws targeting illegal immigrants. Arizona’s Senate later voted down five related immigration bills last month. The votes were seen as a victory for the Arizona business lobby.