4/7 – Global Atlanta – Immigration Bills Could Curtail Investment to Georgia

Immigration Bills Could Curtail Investment to Georgia.

Ann Cantrell

Atlanta – 04.07.11
With two immigration reform bills possibly up for a vote next week in Georgia‘s Legislature, critics of the bills warn that an unintended consequence will be decreased investment into the state from around the country and the world.House Bill 87, which attempts to crack down on illegal immigration by mandating that businesses verify their employees’ legal status, passed the House of Representatives in early March. Later in the month, a similar piece of immigration reform, Senate Bill 40, was adopted in the Senate.

While it is unclear if the bills will reach the opposite chambers for a vote, lawmakers could make a decision about the legislation before April 14, the last day of the 40-day session.

D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, which opposes illegal immigration, said the bill will open up jobs for unemployed Georgians, while critics of the bills told GlobalAtlanta the legislation could send a message that international investment is not welcome in Georgia.

“If Atlanta and Georgia are looking to attract international business – and we certainly have done a good job of that – you want to make sure that the message is that we welcome that investment and we welcome that employment,” said John Krueger, senior vice president of public policy at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

He added that until the bills are finalized, the chamber has not formally opposed or supported the bills. “We want to make sure that we can be at the table making changes to the bill. It’s a little premature to be formally opposed,” said Mr. Krueger.

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee made significant changes to SB 40, essentially gutting it to insert language from its own bill.

HB 87 would require all private companies with more than five employees to use a federal E-Verify system to ensure the legality of all new hires and creates the offense of “aggravated identity theft” for the use of false information.

It also authorizes law enforcement officers to check the legal status of suspected criminals if they are unable to provide identification and makes harboring an illegal immigrant an offense.

With these types of controversial provisions, Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said businesses and conventions could boycott Georgia, as they did in Arizona.

After Arizona’s legislature passed Senate Bill 1070, which makes it a misdemeanor crime for an illegal immigrant to be caught without proper documentation, the state experienced boycotts from a number of organizations and cancellations on political- and business-related conventions.

According to data from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the tourism industry employs 234,100 people in Georgia and is the second largest sector in the state.

With Georgia’s large tourism sector, this type of boycott would have a much greater economic impact on Georgia than Arizona, said Mr. Gonzalez.

Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, told GlobalAtlanta she is concerned that provisions in the bills promote racial profiling and damage Atlanta’s image as international city.

“Atlanta and the state of Georgia have worked very hard to create an international community, and there is deep concern about how this will affect us at a national and international level,” said Ms. Bremer.

These bills would not tarnish Georgia’s image because they protect legal immigration into the state, said Mr. King.

“Most reasonable people understand that nobody is going to think less of Georgia for protecting legal immigrants, the rich tradition of immigration and the rule of law in Georgia,” said Mr. King, adding that he did not foresee slowed investment to Georgia.

While Mr. Gonzalez and Ms. Bremer oppose this state sponsored legislation, they do support immigration reform on a federal level.

Charles Kuck, managing partner with Kuck Immigration Partners LLC, told GlobalAtlanta that effective federal legislation would include a more secure border, a path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants, more visa options for immigrants coming into the U.S., and a system that allows for temporary immigration when there is an economic need.

This reform would also require a system with a more effective employee verification program, said Mr. Kuck.

He said the E-Verify system is riddled with problems, including an inability to catch identity theft and that the bills only require that new employees’ backgrounds are checked, ignoring all undocumented people who are already employed.

Mr. King argued that E-Verify is the best employee verification system available, with a number of companies already using the system in Georgia.

“As of September there were 16,000 businesses, including thousands of agriculture-related employers, already using E-Verify voluntarily,” he said.

To view the latest versions of HB 87 and SB 40, visit www.legis.ga.gov.

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