“Look, I’m not a criminal. I don’t go around breaking the law, because for one thing I have way too much to lose. I do everything by the book. But if this law goes into effect, I’m telling you I’m not going to follow it. I’m just not. Because I can’t.”
I was sitting at a restaurant bar, talking to its owner about the potential impact of House Bill 87, the illegal immigration bill. He had contacted me, asking if I wanted to hear “the economic perspective of a small business owner,” with the understanding that he would remain anonymous.
“Some restaurant owners who publicly opposed this bill have received death threats, leading me to want to stay below the radar,” he explained in the email. On that basis, we agreed to meet.
If the law survives legal challenge and goes into effect, the owner said, he would face two choices: He could obey the law, lose a very big chunk of his ktichen staff and be forced out of business; or he could evade the law and save his business.
“I’ve got my future and my family’s future tied up in this,” he said, looking around at the bustling restaurant. “We’re doing good right now, but I’m in debt millions of dollars. And when I made that decision (to borrow the money), I didn’t have any idea that they’d be passing a law like this. My bank didn’t have any idea they’d be passing a law like this.”
“I don’t get it. They talk about jobs jobs jobs. The only two industries generating revenue and jobs for Georgia are hospitality and agriculture. And this is going to ruin them both. And it’s not just my kitchen staff who will lose their jobs. All of my front-of-the house workers [bartenders, waiters, hostesses], they’ll be out of work too. We’ve already lost the construction industry, and now we’re going to lose these too. Nobody I know is considering opening another restaurant in this state.”
In fact, if the construction industry was still booming as it was a few years ago, he said, there’s no way the Legislature would have passed HB 87. Back then, too many politically connected people were making too much money off illegal workers. And the hospitality and agriculture industries just don’t have the clout that developers once wielded.
Right now, he said, he does everything he can to abide by the law. He doesn’t pay anybody off the books, which means that everybody on his staff is paying taxes. “This claim that they don’t pay taxes — I don’t get that,” he says. “Yeah, they may not pay a lot in income taxes, but nobody else in those jobs does either [because they don’t make a lot of money]. But they pay sales taxes, property taxes, unemployment taxes, and they’re paying a lot of money into Social Security that they’re never going to get back.”
“See that guy right there,” he said, nodding his head toward a nearby waiter. “He’s been in this country since he was five, when his parents brought him here. He graduated from high school here, and he probably speaks better English than I do. He doesn’t know a damn thing about Mexico. And they want to send him back? Back to what? Have you seen what’s going on in Mexico these days?”
“I’m trying to grow my business; I’m trying to help my people grow and build good lives. I don’t think the politicians know what they’re doing. I just don’t think they’ve thought this through.”