The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A human rights organization has canceled plans to hold its biannual conference in Atlanta this year amid calls to boycott Georgia because of a tough immigration enforcement bill that the state Legislature approved last month.
The U.S. Human Rights Network, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, had not booked a location yet for its three-day event but was expecting more than 600 people from across the country to attend the meeting in December, said a spokeswoman for the organization.
The meeting will be relocated to another state because of Georgia’s House Bill 87, the spokeswoman said. A new location has not yet been selected. The network, meanwhile, did not have an estimate for the economic impact its conference would have had for the Atlanta area.
Critics of HB 87 are hoping the network’s decision will be the first of many boycotts to be announced as they seek to pressure Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill. A spokeswoman for Deal recently confirmed the Republican governor plans to sign HB 87 before the end of next week.
“HB 87 is another sad apartheid initiative spreading throughout the country to create fear and exploit people in compromised positions,” said Ajamu Baraka, the U.S. Human Rights Network’s executive director. “Reactionary forces in this country are attempting to turn the clock backward to the 18th century by creating these laws.”
Supporters of the legislation say illegal immigrants are burdening Georgia’s schools, hospitals and jails. And they point to a recent Pew Hispanic Center estimate that says Georgia is home to more illegal immigrants than Arizona, with 425,000 living here.
Like a law Arizona enacted last year, Georgia’s measure would empower police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. And it would punish those who transport or harbor illegal immigrants or use fake identification to get jobs here.
The Human Rights Network, which says on its website that its purpose is to build a human rights movement in the United States, plans to continue its boycott of Georgia until HB 87 is scrapped. Among the network’s founding members are the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Last week, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau went on record opposing HB 87 over concerns that it could hurt the region’s $10 billion tourism industry. The bureau’s executive committee unanimously passed a resolution saying the measure is “unwelcoming” and could “tarnish Atlanta’s reputation as one of America’s most welcoming cities.”
Atlanta’s convention and tourism boosters are hoping Georgia won’t suffer like Arizona, which lost dozens of conventions after that state enacted similar legislation last year. A spokeswoman for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau said Tuesday that no Atlanta conventions have been canceled because of HB 87.
A spokesman for Deal issued a statement last week in response to the bureau’s resolution.
“Illegal immigration costs Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, each year at the city, county and state levels,” said Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman. “Georgia will treat everyone in our state with respect, and we want to encourage immigrants who settle in Georgia to go through the proper legal channels. Frankly, Georgia is leading the way by requiring that employers follow existing federal law. Look for other states — who face the same challenges and costs — to follow Georgia’s lead.”