Wording weighs on immigration bill

By Aaron Baca, Marietta Daily Journal, January 18, 2006


ATLANTA - The battle shaping up this year to draft tougher laws against illegal immigrants in Georgia is beginning to turn on syntax and terminology.

Legislators and activists who favor new laws meant to discourage illegal immigration to Georgia defended their campaign Tuesday during an hour-long forum at the Capitol saying they believe they are being portrayed by some media as mean-spirited and sometimes even as bigots.

Among them is Cobb Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) who has proposed recent legislation to crack down on companies that employ illegal immigrants, as well as other bills meant to verify the legal residences of people who receive state assistance through programs that require proof of residency.

"I've been told I'm mean-spirited because I want to enforce laws against illegal immigrants," Rogers said.

"There's been some kind of implication that because I'm working on (anti-illegal immigration) bills I'm somehow anti-immigration. It's just not true," Rogers said in remarks following a forum on illegal immigration sponsored by The Associated Press.

Despite his push to adopt laws against illegal immigration, Rogers withdrew one controversial bill last week that would have prevented unauthorized non-citizens from attending public colleges and universities in the state.

Rogers said he withdrew senate bill 171 because the bill was often misunderstood and because it presently is not part of the Legislature's Republican majority agenda.

In addition to Rogers, other panelists at Tuesday's forum included Marietta Daily Journal columnist D.A. King, who writes about illegal immigration, state Rep. Brian Thomas (D-Lilburn), Tisha Tallman of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Luz Marti, a south Georgia representative to the Latino Commission for a New Georgia.

Rogers joined King in saying critics of tougher laws are unfairly portraying proposed legislation as being anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant altogether.

King, who is president of the Dustin Inman Society, said his columns and campaign to raise awareness about illegal immigration has nothing to do with whether someone is Hispanic.

"Immigration into our nation of laws is sacred to me," King said. "An immigrant is someone who came to this country legally. It is outrageous to me that we can't all get on the same page with the words we use."

King said critics of tougher laws are intentionally trying to portray illegal immigrants as legal immigrants to soften legislation aimed at enforcing immigration laws.

Critics, however, say the push to draft tougher laws against illegal immigration is politicizing an issue that states have little power to enforce.

Ms. Tallman said states are overstepping their law-making abilities in passing anti-illegal immigration laws and are setting themselves up for court battles that ultimately will rule against tougher measures.

"Legislation introduced in Georgia is in violation of federal law," Ms. Tallman said. "

Ms. Tallman argues that tougher laws against illegal immigrants must be written carefully and must be narrowly applied.

Such laws often abuse rights that even illegal immigrants enjoy under U.S. law, she said.

"The Constitution protects all people, not just citizens," Ms. Tallman said.

Thomas made similar points when he explained that laws meant to discourage illegal immigration to Georgia should not be directed at denying illegal immigrants state or federal services.

"If we are trying to stop illegal immigration, then we should recognize that illegal immigrants come here for one thing: jobs," Thomas said.

Thomas said legislation should be written to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal workers...

Gov. Sonny Perdue, who spoke briefly at Tuesday's forum, said Georgians are frustrated with increasing numbers of illegal immigrants arriving in the state.

However, Perdue said the state "has some limitations on what it can do" because most immigration issues must be enforced by federal authorities.

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