Key parts of Georgia immigration law not enforced
By KATE BRUMBACK
ATLANTA (AP) - Nearly three years after the Georgia Legislature passed a sweeping immigration law that was described by critics and supporters alike as one of the toughest in the country, several key provisions are going largely unenforced.
The Georgia Immigration and Compliance Act requires companies with government contracts to use a federal database to screen new employees to ensure they are eligible to work in the United States and to provide a sworn statement to the government. It also requires that new applicants for public benefits be screened to verify their eligibility.
D.A. King, head of the Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for stricter laws to combat illegal immigration, said at a news conference Monday at the state Capitol that local governments are flouting the law. He said he plans to lobby during the current legislative session, which started Monday, for measures to promote enforcement.
``We need to be in the forefront of the nation again,'' King told reporters. ``We passed the law, now we need to enforce it.''
Under the law, public employers, including local governments, and their contractors must verify the legal work status of their employees using the federal E-Verify database. Contractors must provide sworn statements to the government saying they have run the checks. The verification requirement has been phased in gradually. It currently applies to public employers, contractors or subcontractors with 100 or more employees, but will be mandatory for all starting July 1.
An Associated Press review of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services figures from the end of August, the most recent available, showed that 97 of Georgia's 159 counties, or 61 percent, had not signed up for E-verify, and a large chunk of the state's municipal governments also were not using the database.
Also under the law, every agency or division of government that administers public benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps, is required to check applicants' eligibility using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, program.
By last week, according to CIS numbers, only 13 governments or agencies - five state agencies, four county governments or departments, and four cities - had signed up for access to that federal database.
Local governments and agencies say one reason they aren't complying with the law is because they don't have the money to train staff.
Access to the E-Verify database is free and registration is quick, but staff have to learn how to use it and it takes time to run the checks. The SAVE program has a more involved registration process and a fee of at least 50 cents for each check.
``Local governments are given no money, so of course they're not going to enforce it,'' said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta lawyer and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. ``It's just not important to them when they're dealing with other economic issues. These laws cost money and they didn't fund it.''
King said that's no excuse. He maintains that illegal immigrants are taking jobs and benefiting from public resources, so the cost of enforcement would ultimately be a savings.
Another reason cash-strapped local governments and agencies are seemingly not worried about complying is because there are no real consequences if they don't.
On its Web site, the state Department of Labor sets forth the rules governing the employment eligibility checks, including a random audit program. But that provision won't go into effect ``until necessary funds have been specifically appropriated by the General Assembly.'' Labor department spokesman Sam Hall said those funds have never been approved.