Groups demand Perdue retract immigration statements

By AP - Dorrie Turner, Macon Telegraph, September 18, 2006

ATLANTA - Hispanic and black leaders on Monday called for Gov. Sonny Perdue to retract statements about illegal immigrants made last week during the announcement of a statewide crackdown on false documentation.

Gathered underneath the rotunda at the state Capitol, labor advocates and civil rights leaders said the governor and other lawmakers are unfairly targeting immigrants as a ploy to get re-elected.

During a news conference last week, Gov. Perdue said, "It is simply unacceptable for people to sneak into this country illegally on Thursday, obtain a government-issued ID on Friday, head for the welfare office on Monday and cast a vote on Tuesday," according to a transcript provided by Perdue's press office.

The Coordinating Council of Community Leaders, who organized the rally at the Capitol, delivered to the governor's office Monday a letter blasting Perdue's comments.

"We are distraught that ... statements made last week will only increase the climate of suspicion around Latino immigrants and increase racial profiling," says the letter, signed by council members Teodoro Maus and Adelina Nicholls.

Perdue said he has no plan to apologize for criticizing illegal immigration.

"I won't apologize for criminal activity," Perdue said Monday after a news conference at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters.

He also denied that the effort to get tough on illegal immigration is an election-year stunt.

During Monday's rally, speakers drew parallels between the struggle of blacks during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the state's campaign against illegal immigration.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the United States needs immigration reform rather than the "demeaning and dehumanizing of our brothers and sisters" from other countries. The SCLC is the Atlanta-based civil rights organization that Martin Luther King Jr. helped found in 1957 to fight segregation.

Lowery, who headed the SCLC from 1977 to 1997, called for "black and brown" teamwork to ensure civil rights for the country's two largest minority groups.

D.A. King, founder and president of the Marietta-based Dustin Inman Society, which opposes illegal immigration, called Monday's rally a protest of "the U.S. government enforcing existing laws."

Immigration has become a central theme in Perdue's bid for re-election this fall. Earlier this year he signed into law one of the toughest immigration bills in the country. The new law, which takes effect next year, requires proof that adults must prove they are in the country legally when they seek many state-administered benefits.

It also penalizes companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and mandates that employers with state contracts check the immigration status of employees.

Perdue has criticized federal lawmakers, who are still debating national immigration reform, for forcing states to address the issue themselves.

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