Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

5/31 – SF Examiner – Paying more for your salsa, will broken immigration system = higher food prices? – San Francisco Fusion food | Examiner.com

Paying more for your salsa, will broken immigration system = higher food prices? – San Francisco Fusion food | Examiner.com.

  • May 30th, 2011 7:39 am PT

Wait for it… California could be next. In Georgia, farmers are reporting that “they are starting to feel the effects of a tough crackdown on illegal immigration — a sudden dearth of migrant workers needed to bring in their harvests. Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said the labor pool of produce pickers has shrunk by 30 to 50 percent since passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act on April 20,” according to a Yahoo News report this past Saturday. One owner,  Melinda James, of OSAGE Farms in north Georgia says she only has 26-28 lined up of the “about 150 workers [we need] when we get going in June”.

With ICE raids and crackdowns on employers of illegal workers both on the rise; add the fact that California’s illegal immigrant population has dropped by by 250,000, the nation’s by nearly 1 million, as reported in February in the LA Times in February. Much of the drop, the sharpest in three decades, is due to a weakended US economy which means workers arereturning to their homelands (primarly Mexico) or simply not coming.  It all adds up to potential endangered crops, something we saw hints of as early as 2007, when said Luawanna Hallstrom of the California Farm Bureau likened the situation to, “a time bomb just ready to go off.”

Nationally, it has been estimated more than half of all farm workers are illegal immigrants. In California, that numer is closer to 75%. The California Department of of Food and Agriculture has called for a sweeping effort to protect immigrant farm workers — including those who traveled to the U.S. illegally — in a plan called AgVision2030, asserting that immigrant labor are vital to the state’s farm economy, which affirms a commonly held view among immigrant-rights advocates — that migrant laborers, many of them from Mexico, do jobs that U.S. citizens are unwilling to do.

“Coordinated efforts at recruiting domestic labor have largely failed, despite high unemployment in many agricultural communities,” the plan states. “Thus, an estimated 75 percent of California’s agricultural workforce is foreign-born, primarily Mexican, and about half of the workers are believed to be unauthorized under current immigration laws.” The plan goes on to state that the current visa system for farm workers is “cumbersome and ineffective.”

Angela Chan, a staff lawyer at the Asian Law Caucus, said in an email message. “We cannot continue to ignore this basic truth that immigrant workers are vital to our economy,” and farmers confirm a shortage of workers means food gets left to rot. Farms must simply leave fruit on the vine and fields unharvested.

Continue reading on Examiner.com Paying more for your salsa, will broken immigration system = higher food prices? – San Francisco Fusion food | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/fusion-food-in-san-francisco/broken-immigration-system-could-mean-higher-food-prices-here-the-bay#ixzz1Nw46smGV

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May 30, 2011

5/26 – The Root – Black Immigration to America: Raising Their Voices

Black Immigration to America: Raising Their Voices.

Millions of African- and Caribbean-born people are missing from the immigration-reform conversation. A few of them tell The Root that they will not be shut out.

Black Immigrants Join the Debate

Immigration rally in 2009 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On March 11, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Tolu Olubunmi came out publicly as an undocumented immigrant for the first time.

“It’s been nerve-racking because it puts me at a risk,” the 30-year-old told The Root about her speech supporting Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) reintroduction of the DREAM Act. The bill, which passed in the House last year but failed to clear the Senate, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths like her, brought to the United States as children. “But I think you have to focus on the individuals to get away from the politics of an issue that’s so divisive. Once you know that there are real people attached to the statistics, then you have to start working on real solutions.”

Olubunmi, who was born in Nigeria, is also one of 3 million black immigrants in this country. Despite moving from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America at a remarkable rate — and despite an estimated 400,000 having undocumented status — they are barely footnotes in an immigration-reform conversation that is usually framed as a Mexican-border issue. But in light of newer, smaller-but-growing communities, as well as recently granted protected status for Haitians in particular, black immigrants are becoming stronger voices, advocating for reform from their diverse perspectives.

Black Sojourners

According to a Population Reference Bureau report (pdf), about two-thirds of black immigrants to the U.S. are from the Caribbean and Latin America — mostly Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad — with families that largely began settling in the United States from the 1960s through the ’80s. More recently there’s been a wave of African immigrants, with more arriving between 2000 and 2005 than in the previous decade. The top three countries from that continent are Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana.

Most black immigrants enter the United States legally, seeking education and job opportunities, either by joining immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens or by presenting student or tourist visas with an expiration date. Those who are undocumented often fall out of status by overstaying these visas.

As The Root noted in a previous article, Caribbean- and African-born blacks tend to be wealthier and more educated than other immigrants, a class difference that has kept many from joining Latinos in the immigration-reform movement. But in recent years, with more African and Caribbean people coming to the United States to flee political strife, civil violence and natural disasters, new groups are entering as refugees or asylum seekers. While only 3 percent of immigrants from Caribbean countries, mostly from Haiti, were admitted under the refugee category, nearly 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africans granted legal residence between 2000 and 2006 entered as refugees.

Continue reading: Black Immigration to America: Raising Their Voices.

May 30, 2011

5/12 – Huffington Post (VIDEO) – Ofelia Yanez: Georgia: Buying Immigrants and Selling Peaches

Ofelia Yanez: Georgia: Buying Immigrants and Selling Peaches.

Posted: 05/12/11 03:28 PM ET

It’s the cynicism and ignorance in politician’s statements when it becomes apparent that the motivation behind their actions is not out of concern for the people they represent, but rather out of a personal bias they hold within themselves. Such is the case with Sen. Bill Cowsert who recently stated the following to members of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce in response to the possible impact of a boycott against the state of Georgia.

“Who’s going to boycott us, illegal aliens? Are they going to turn themselves in and raise their hand that they’re opposed to it? I don’t see that hurting our business here.”

-Sen. Bill Cowsert

Obviously someone wasn’t paying attention when the boycott in Arizona happened after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the controversial and discriminatory SB1070. Arizona lost over $250 million dollars within 7 months of the passage of the law, and was predicted to reach $388 million according to a study for the Center for American Progress. The situation gets trickier for Georgia however since it’s largest industry, agriculture, is estimated to include 40-50% undocumented workers.

So to answer the senator’s question, um, yeah, the undocumented community, or as you like to call them, “illegal aliens” will boycott you and so will everyone else who supports our hard working people.

Let’s stop playing dumb and pretend like this has to do with national security or jobs. It just so happens that Georgia has other motivations in passing this law since private prison corporations have high stakes in the state, just like they did in Arizona, and are desperately waiting to cash in on their profits once undocumented people start filling up their cells.

May 28, 2011

5/27 – The Republic (AP) – Ga. gov requests inquiry into farm labor shortage after state approves immigration crackdown :: The Republic

Ga. gov requests inquiry into farm labor shortage after state approves immigration crackdown :: The Republic.

RAY HENRY  Associated Press

 

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has asked agriculture officials to assess complaints of farm labor shortages after he signed one of the toughest laws in the country targeting illegal immigrants, including those who help harvest the state’s fruit and vegetable crops.

The letter sent Thursday asks Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black to report his findings by June 10.

“Producers of fresh fruit, vegetables and other commodities important to Georgia’s agricultural economy are in peak harvest season, and in the months to come, other labor intensive commodities will be harvested thus continuing the demand for farm labor,” Deal said in a letter first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Many farmers have raised concerns about the availability of an adequate, stable workforce for Georgia’s production agricultural industry.”

Black, who agreed to conduct the survey, said his office has received several phone calls from farmers reporting labor issues. As part of the assessment, state officials are relying on an online survey that asks farmers what crops they raise, their workforce needs, what they pay in salary and benefits and how they recruit their laborers.

“We’re trying to determine if there’s a problem at all and to what extent it’s affecting growers,” Black said.

The law signed by Deal this month is among the toughest in the country cracking down on illegal immigrants. It penalizes people who harbor or transport illegal immigrants in some situations and allows law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot show an approved form of identification. Using false documents to get a job will be a felony once the law goes into effect in July.

Private employers with more than 10 workers must eventually use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.

Farmers complain that U.S. workers will not take low-paying, difficult farm jobs. They have criticized the crackdown for fear it will scare away farmworkers — including many illegal immigrants — who provide the muscle necessary to collect easily bruised crops such as fruits and vegetables that cannot be harvested by machine.

The state’s largest farm lobbying group, the Georgia Farm Bureau, has argued that immigration policies should be set by the federal government, not the state.

State lawmakers previously directed the state Department of Agriculture to investigate an existing federal guest worker program for the agriculture industry and provide recommendations for improving it.

 

May 28, 2011

5/27 – GPB(AP) – Court Ruling Won’t Affect GA Immigration Law Challenge

Court Ruling Won’t Affect GA Immigration Law Challenge.

Fri., May 27, 2011 10:59am (EDT)
By Associated Press and Jeanne Bonner

PHOENIX  —

Georgia’s immigration law has attracted a lot of controversy and quite a few protests. Lawyers who plan to challenge the law say it’s unconstitutional for a state to impose burdens on the federal government in terms of detaining and turning over illegal immigrations to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement division..

The Supreme Court has upheld an Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring workers in the country illegally. But lawyers in Atlanta who are taking steps to file an injunction against a similar Georgia law say the ruling will not affect their plans.

The decision buoyed the hopes of supporters of state crackdowns on illegal immigration.

They predicted the ruling would lead to many other states passing laws that require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check that workers aren’t illegal immigrants.

And some said the ruling bodes well for the prospects of a much broader and more controversial immigration law in Arizona, known as SB1070, to be found constitutional.

That second law was passed in 2010. This year, Georgia passed a similar law that also includes E-Verify. Businesses in Georgia with 11 or more employees will have to use the federal database to determine employment eligibility of prospective workers.

Lawyers in Atlanta who are preparing to file an injunction against the Georgia law, known as House Bill 87, say the Supreme Court’s ruling pertains to a provision they don’t plan to challenge.

“We were never including a challenge to the E-Verify portion of HB 87 in our litigation,” said Attorney Charles Kuck.

He added, the state is free “to impose unequal burdens on private employers based upon the whim of state legislators.”

He said the heart of his firm’s complaint will concern the portion of HB 87 that allows the state to impose burdens on the federal government. Specifically, he says the provision that allows police officers to detain illegal immigrants and then turn them over to the federal government for prosecution is unconstitutional. He says only the federal government can determine immigration policy.

Some of the provisions of Georgia’s new immigration law will go into effect on July 1. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, say the state’s law carefully avoids the constitutional pitfalls found in the Arizona law.

They say they expect legal challenges but they are not worried HB 87 will be struck down.

May 28, 2011

5/27 – GPB – Ga. Farms Have Severe Worker Shortage

Ga. Farms Have Severe Worker Shortage.

Fri., May 27, 2011 2:37pm (EDT)
Ga. Farms Have Severe Worker Shortage
By Melissa Stiers

ATLANTA  —

(photo by Christine Johnstone via Creative Commons)

It’s nearly peak harvest time for south Georgia’s vegetable farmers, but they don’t have enough workers to pick the crops. The industry says it’s because of the state’s new immigration reform law.

Normally, Steven Johnson with Echols County’s South Georgia Produce would be preparing to ship out big truckloads of cucumbers, squash and peppers to sell across the nation. But, so far he has just a third of the product he should.

He says the rest of the crop is ripe in the field with too few people to pick it.

“It is a complete disaster at the moment with the bill that was signed two weeks ago. Right now we can’t get the help and all the help people have relied on in the past as far as people coming up say from Florida produce and its time for Georgia to kick in… those people are afraid to come into the state right now,” says Johnson.

The law doesn’t take effect until July 1st.

Among other provisions, it punishes people transporting or harboring illegal immigrants and let police investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects without identification.

Industry advocates say it’s the most severe farm worker shortage they’ve seen. They’re working with the state Department of Labor to try and get Georgia’s unemployed to work on the farms.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal has asked the state Agriculture Department to look into the shortage.

May 28, 2011

5/26 – WSBTV – Businesses Vow To Protect Illegal Immigrants – News Story – WSB Atlanta

Businesses Vow To Protect Illegal Immigrants – News Story – WSB Atlanta.

Some Georgia businesses are pledging to protect illegal immigrants against a new law that gives police more room to question residents’ immigration status.There are now 16 business and/or churches in the metro Atlanta area calling themselves buy spots and sanctuary zones, including the Charis Bookstore in northeast Atlanta. Click here for the full list.”We put our face out there because no one is going to come looking for our papers,” bookstore employee Elizabeth Anderson told Channel 2’s Erica Byfield.Supporters said buy spots are places illegal immigrants can shop without the fear of having to show papers proving their legal status, and sanctuary zones are places people can gather to plan how to fight the law. Anderson told Byfield if a police officer wants to question someone inside either place they will be asked to provide a warrant.Supporters created buy spots and sanctuary zones in the wake of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signing House Bill 87 into law. The law gives police the right to question someone’s legal status during a criminal investigation, including a traffic stop.”The collective financial cost to our educational, health care and correction infrastructure is in the billions,” Deal said after the signing.Anderson said Charis Books was the first business in Georgia to become a buy spot.”It makes us look ignorant to the rest of the country, and as a native born Georgian, it makes me angry and sad,” she said.Officers said they are still exploring the law’s implications.”Currently, we are looking into the law to gain full understanding of all the components it entails. We will have discussions with our legal department and the mayor’s office to see how this new law will be enforced by us,” an Atlanta police representative said in a statement.

May 27, 2011

5/27 – ajc.com – Governor asks state to probe farm labor shortages | ajc.com

Governor asks state to probe farm labor shortages  | ajc.com.

Georgia Politics 7:12 p.m. Friday, May 27, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State officials confirmed Friday that they have started investigating the scope of Georgia’s agricultural labor shortages following complaints that the state’s new immigration enforcement law is scaring away migrant farmworkers.

Gov. Nathan Deal asked for the investigation Thursday in a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. Deal wants Black’s department to survey farmers about the impact Georgia’s immigration law, House Bill 87, is having on their industry and report findings by June 10.

The labor shortages have sent farmers scrambling to find other workers for their fall harvests. Others are making hard choices about leaving some fruits and vegetables to wilt on their fields.

Proponents of HB 87 say people who are in the country legally have nothing to worry about concerning the new law. They hope the law that takes effect July 1 will deter illegal immigrants from coming here and burdening the state’s taxpayer-funded public schools, hospitals and jails.

The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has estimated the labor shortages afflicting South Georgia counties could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk. But the full extent of the damage won’t be known until after July, when farmers have finished harvesting their summer crops, including blueberries, watermelons and sweet corn, said Charles Hall, the association’s executive director. When that damage is tabulated, Hall said, it will help farmers decide whether they should plant less for future harvests.

Farmers say the Hispanic migrant workers they depend on to pick their fruits and vegetables are bypassing Georgia to work in other states. The workers are concerned they will be harassed or jailed here following the passage of HB 87, the farmers said.

Bill Brim said between 75 and 100 Hispanic workers he depends on didn’t show up for work this year at his 4,500-acre farm in Tifton, causing him to lose some of his vegetable harvests. Now Brim, who raises cucumbers, eggplant, squash tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits and vegetables, is considering cutting back on production and building more houses to shelter laborers he could get through a federal guest-worker program he already participates in.

“We have to pick and choose what we pick,” said Brim, a board member and past president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “We have to skip over fields, not just because of labor but because of dry weather, too.”

Deal wrote Thursday in a letter to Black that “many farmers have raised concerns about the availability of an adequate, stable workforce for Georgia’s production agricultural industry.”

“Knowing the strong demand for farm labor will continue through the summer months, I request that you assess how this legislation is impacting agricultural operations,” he wrote in the letter, according to a copy obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The governor’s office provided the AJC with access to an electronic survey the state is using to measure the extent of the labor shortage. The survey doesn’t mention HB 87, but it does ask farmers how many more workers they need, how long they will need them, what they would pay per hour, and what they are doing to recruit employees.

Deal signed HB 87 into law this month. Partly patterned after a law Arizona adopted last year, Georgia’s measure empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. And it penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come here.

Asked to what extent this new law is causing the labor shortage, a spokesman for Deal said the governor supports federal guest-worker programs that allow farmers to legally bring noncitizens here to do seasonal farm work.

“We have always said we don’t make federal laws, but we are subject to them,” said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal. “Before HB 87, it was illegal to hire someone who was in the country illegally.”

Black was not available for comment Friday. But his spokesman, Arty Schronce, said the commissioner did not want to speculate on what is causing the labor shortages. Schronce said his agency is willing to help publicize state job fairs and is encouraging farmers to share their job listings with the state Labor Department.

“We are focused on trying to find a solution,” Schronce said.

Black and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler were considering issuing a joint statement about the labor shortage, but there are no plans to do that now, Schronce said, because the problem has been reported in the news media.

Butler issued a statement Friday saying his and Black’s agencies are “working together to provide the workforce where needed to the agribusiness community.” Asked for specifics, Labor Department spokesman Sam Hall said: “We are still determining what we are going to do. … It will depend on what the necessity is.” Hall said Butler does not have enough information yet to determine to what extent HB 87 is impacting farm labor.

Jason Berry, the farm manager at Blueberry Farms of Georgia in Baxley, said a third of the 120 workers who were needed to pick highbush blueberries this spring did not show up for work even after the farm offered $50 signing bonuses. The farm also offered weekly $25 bonuses to people just for showing up for work.

Most of those who didn’t show up for work are Mexican and Guatemalan migrant workers who were fearful of the climate produced by HB 87 in Georgia, Berry said. The farm lost about 10 percent of its spring blueberry crop because of the labor shortage, Berry estimated.

“There is so much fear stricken into all of these people that a lot of them refused to come to Georgia,” Berry said. “They were inferring that because that law was passed immigration [agents were] going to be after them hard this year. They would think they could possibly get deported.”

Staff writer Matt Kempner contributed to this article.

May 27, 2011

5/26 – Cherokee Tribune – Immigration law getting mixed reviews

Cherokee Tribune – Immigration law getting mixed reviews.

by Kristal Dixon
kdixon@cherokeetribune.com
May 26, 2011 12:00 AM

CANTON – Cherokee County’s Hispanic activists and its law enforcement agencies are studying Georgia’s new immigration law with extra caution.

Fidel Gomez, executive director of the Canton-based Uniting Communities in Georgia, Inc. said the new law will instill fear among some in the county’s Hispanic community.

Georgia’s new law, which takes effect July 1, is similar to Arizona’s law, which is tied up in the legal system because of challenges.

It allows state and local police officers to request the immigration documents from suspected criminals.

It also requires many private businesses to use the E-Verify federal program to confirm employees’ legal residency.

It also blocks certain businesses from obtaining official licenses and other documents needed to operate in the state if it doesn’t use the program.

Gomez said some in the community may become more reluctant to reach out to law enforcement if they are in trouble.

“They will hesitate to call them,” he said.

Gomez, whose organization provides classes in English, computer skills and seminars about finances, said it’s the federal government’s job to regulate immigration and the state should have focused its efforts on putting pressure on its senators and representatives to pass comprehension immigration reform.

Gomez said Georgia’s legislators should have thought about the possible “damage” the bill would bring to its tourism industry, adding he knows people who have canceled vacations to Arizona.

The law is getting mixed response from local law enforcement officials.

Holly Springs Police Chief Ken Ball said it’s a “shame” that the federal government has sat on its hands when it comes to enforcing illegal immigration into the United States.

“I do believe Georgia has done the right thing in giving the power to local jurisdictions to enforce this law at the state level,” he said.

However, Ball did note he is worried about the burden placed on local jails that hold criminals suspected of being in the country illegally, waiting on the federal government to take action or begin the deportation process.

He also said he’s concerned about the potential litigation the law will most likely spur-just like what state officials in Arizona are witnessing.

“Everyone is waiting to see what the federal courts decide on these challenges,” he said.

Sheriff Roger Garrison said the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office is in the process of weeding though the law’s hundreds of pages to make sure they understand the legislation from a law enforcement’s perspective.

“I understand and support the intent of the legislature in this effort,” he added.

Garrison did reiterate that state and local officers are not allowed to check the immigration status without a criminal violation.

He added the law also exempts people who are reporting crimes, victims of a crime or witnesses to crimes from having their legal statuses checked.

“Most importantly, we can’t violate anybody’s constitutional rights,” he added.

The sheriff noted anyone who comes through the county’s Adult Detention Center has their citizenship status checked, as it already participates in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities initiative, which uses fingerprints to identify aliens after they are arrested and detained.

Garrison said he hoped to win approval this year from ICE to participate in the 287(g) program, which trains and authorizes local law enforcement officers to identify, process and detain immigration offenders. Agencies approved for the program also receive funding to jail detainees.

The approval, the sheriff added, “would mesh well to ensure we’re utilizing every tool available to us (and) to ensure that the law is complied with and we’re doing our part to protect the citizens.”

Unfortunately, Garrison added, the law may widen the gap between the department and the county’s Hispanic population, but the sheriff did say they will continue to reach out to the community.

Woodstock Police Chief David Bores said he’s not “holding his breath” over the legislation going into effect as there are numerous legal challenges facing the bill.

Bores echoed his Holly Springs counterpart and said it was a “shame” the federal government “has not done its job to properly enforce our boarders.”

“As a consequence, the states have been forced to take unilateral action to deal with the number of illegal immigrants within their respective jurisdictions,” he said. “Ignoring the problem is no longer an option.”

Bores did note it was too early to tell whether the department will see their relationship with the Hispanic community cool off. He did say he can ensure the public the department will not profile or take anyone into custody without “proper legal justification.”

Canton Police Chief Jeff Lance said the law would place a huge burden on local agencies that do not have the resources to adequately enforce the law.

Lance added his agency has training in identifying false documents, but that only proves useful when they encounter individuals who carry those documents.

“In most cases, the individuals we come in contact with whose immigration status is questionable, do not carry any identification with them,” he added.

Lance reiterated the agency will continue to work with its Hispanic community to ensure they provide just as much protection and service to them as they do with the city at large.

“When working on solving crimes, we have shown to the local Latino community that our concerns are not centered on their immigration status, but rather our interest is focused on assisting the victim and apprehending the offender,” he said.

According to the Rev. Dr. Aquiles Martinez, coordinator of the Mi Familia Center in Canton and, the conciliatory messages from law enforcement agencies haven’t soothed some of Cherokee’s Hispanic families.

Martinez said families have confessed to him they are thinking about moving to another state “just to protect their families.”

“For the most part, they are concerned and (have) fear of how it will impact their lives,” he said.

The center, which has been open for a little more than a year, offers free resources including English as a Second Language, GED and computer literacy classes, after-school assistance for children struggling with academics, immigration clinics, tax returns assistance, religious services and health fairs.

Martinez said it is “very na ve” for legislators to believe the illegal immigration problem can be solved solely from a law enforcement perspective.

“This is an issue that has to be looked at on a holistic level,” he said.

Read more: Cherokee Tribune – Immigration law getting mixed reviews

May 26, 2011

5/26 – APN (IPS) – Prison Lobbyists Help Spread Anti-Immigrant Laws to U.S. South

(IPS) Prison Lobbyists Help Spread Anti-Immigrant Laws to U.S. South.

(IPS) Prison Lobbyists Help Spread Anti-Immigrant Laws to U.S. South

This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55802

ATLANTA, Georgia, May 26, 2011 (IPS) – Earlier this month, Georgia became the third state to enact some of the most anti-immigrant legislation in recent U.S. history, when Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed the bill, HB 87.

Among other things, the bill allows law enforcement officials to ask suspicious individuals to prove that they are U.S. citizens. In practice, critics say, “suspicious looking” is another way of saying “Hispanic”, raising concerns that the law encourages racial profiling.

The law is modeled on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, passed last summer. Utah became the second state earlier this year. Both state’s laws are currently held up in the courts, where federal judicial circuits in the Western U.S. have not been favourable on the grounds that the laws are state or local interference with federal immigration policy.

The laws have already led to statewide boycotts in Georgia and are expected to bring legal challenges as well. In part, national lobbyists targeted Georgia because they wanted to set up a court battle in a more conservative eastern U.S. federal judicial circuit.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill are celebrating, including the right-wing Republican base that supported the bill, as well as the for-profit prison corporations which stand to profit from the massive influx of suspected undocumented immigrants through the private prison system.

“Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), we know they have lobbyists here [at the legislature],” said Larry Pellegrini of Georgia Rural Urban Summit. CCA is one of the largest for-profit prison corporations in the U.S.

“They [CCA] will benefit by the legislation. They have a corporate stake in it around the country,” Pellegrini told IPS.

Pellegrini also noted that the lobbying effort to pass anti- immigration laws in Georgia was part of a national effort.

One national lobbying group that was instrumental in bringing together business interests and lawmakers was the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

It was an ALEC task force, which included a representative from a private prison – along with lawmakers from Arizona and other states – who helped draft Arizona’s immigration bill, which became a template for Georgia’s law as well.

According to CCA reports obtained by National Public Radio, the corporation believes that immigration detention is its next big growth market.

CCA’s earnings were up 15 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

CCA reported earnings of 40.3 million dollars, or 37 cents per share, on revenue of 428 million dollars in first quarter of 2011, according to the Nashville Business Journal newspaper. CCA’s revenue for 2009 was 1.7 billion dollars.

The federal government pays over 60 dollars per detainee per day to house men at CCA’s Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigration detention centre in the U.S., located in Lumpkin, Georgia.

CCA’s top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer. Brewer employs two former CCA lobbyists as aides who assisted with signing Arizona’s SB 1070 into law.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, CCA spent 770,000 dollars lobbying at the federal level in 2009 and has spent as much as 3.4 million since 2005.

Georgia State Sen. Donald Balfour, a key Republican supporter of Georgia’s HB 87, in 2006, 2007, and 2008 received 2,000 dollars each year in donations from CCA; in 2009 he received 1,000; and in 2010, 750.

Governor Deal received from CCA 5,000 dollars in 2010 for the General Election. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has received at least 7,000 dollars from CCA since 2006.

Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has received at least 3,500 dollars from CCA since 2008.

When recently asked about the Georgia bill, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “It is a mistake for states to try to do this piecemeal. We can’t have 50 different immigration laws around the country. Arizona tried this and a federal court already struck them down.”

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia are “seriously considering a legal challenge,” Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director at the Georgia ACLU told IPS.

“We believe the law is unconstitutional,” she said. “It encourages racial profiling and interferes with federal authority to enforce federal immigration laws.”

Meanwhile, key Republican legislators remain undaunted.

“I applaud Governor Deal’s signing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, which includes numerous common-sense reforms aimed at addressing the social and economic consequences in Georgia resulting from the federal government’s inability to secure our nation’s borders,” State Rep. Matt Ramsey said in a statement.

“HB 87 is a comprehensive and necessary effort to enforce the rule of law and protect the taxpayers of Georgia from being forced to subsidize the presence of nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state. Current economic conditions have made it painfully obvious that the state of Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this broken system,” Ramsey said.

But not all Republicans were thrilled about the new laws, particularly Republican legislators representing rural Georgia districts. Many Georgia farmers are believed to rely upon low-cost immigrant labour to perform tasks like picking onions and plucking chickens.

Time will tell how the new immigration laws – even the very passage of them, whether the courts uphold them or not – will impact immigrants and their families living in Georgia – that is, whether they will stay here or decide to take their chances in another U.S. state.

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