February 24, 2008

The New York Times on the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act ( SB 529) from 2006

Posted by D.A. King at 5:46 pm - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

From the DIS files

In Georgia Law, a Wide-Angle View of Immigration

Published: May 12, 2006
New York Times

ATLANTA — With dozens of states rushing to fill the vacuum left by long-stalled Congressional action on immigration legislation, none have rushed faster and further than Georgia, which recently passed a law that all sides describe as among the most far-reaching in the nation.

Rather than focusing tightly on restricting access to specific benefits or cracking down on employment or bogus identity documents, as other states tried to do, Georgia took the blunderbuss approach, passing a bill hitting as many areas as possible.

The new law requires Georgia employers to use a federal database to verify that their workers are legal, instead of using a voluntary system that was widely ignored. Recipients of most state benefits, including welfare and Medicaid, must prove they are in the country legally, although some medical services are exempt. Workers who cannot provide a Social Security number or other taxpayer identification will be required to pay a 6 percent state withholding tax, taken from their paychecks.

Jailers must inform the federal authorities if anyone incarcerated is in the country illegally, and the local authorities are specifically authorized to seek training to enforce federal immigration laws. And a new criminal offense, human trafficking, has been added to the books to crack down on those who bring in large groups of immigrants.

The bill, known as the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, was signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, on April 17 and will begin to take effect on July 1, 2007, with various provisions taking effect over the next several years.

Ann Morse, director of the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said no other state had gone so far as Georgia in trying to restrict immigrant benefits and rights since Proposition 187 in California (passed in 1994 and ruled unconstitutional four years later) and Proposition 200 in Arizona (passed in 2004). Both measure denied many social services to illegal immigrants.

“There are other bills in legislatures around the country that are somewhat comprehensive, but nothing as comprehensive as Georgia’s,” Ms. Morse said.

This came about, the bill’s author said, because Republican leaders in Georgia decided that public support was growing for such an initiative.

“We decided that the best thing to do was to take a lot of ideas and put them together in one bill,” said State Senator Chip Rogers, a Republican representing some of Atlanta’s far northern suburbs, who wrote the new law and spearheaded its passage. “The climate was certainly right.”

Everyone has a theory about why Georgia, of all the states, was the one to produce such a comprehensive bill on the issue. “You have to start with the fact that we have a very conservative Republican Legislature and a conservative Republican governor,” Mr. Rogers said. “And we are the state with the second fastest-growing immigrant population.”

Tisha Tallman, legal counsel for the Atlanta office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said something else was at work: the rise of the issue on the national stage, after several years of gradual ferment in the trenches, stirred by conservative talk shows.

“There has been legislation proposed the last two sessions, but it was not taken very seriously until this year,” she said. “A certain climate had been created over the last few years, and it resulted in the whole issue becoming more mainstream.”

State Senator Sam Zamarripa of Atlanta, an opponent of the new law who is the Democrats’ point man on the issue, said there was something more insidious at work: a coalition of opportunistic Republicans eager to exploit a fresh-edge issue in the November elections and anti-immigrant groups hungry for a success to build upon.

“In my opinion, the national anti-immigrant groups, the nativist organizations, basically picked Georgia as a place where they could try to devolve immigration,” he said. “They needed a state they could point to, and now they have one.”

D. A. King, a retired insurance salesman in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta who has become one of the most prominent voices for the new legislation, said he resented the accusations that the law was anti-immigrant. He is simply against illegal immigrants, he said, and Washington has failed to act.

“The Georgia legislation is a direct result of the federal government’s refusal to secure our borders in the war on terror and to get illegal immigration under control,” said Mr. King, adding that he had spent most of his savings and much of the last two years leafleting legislators, writing local newspaper columns and organizing more than a dozen protests.

No one can say for sure how many illegal immigrants live and work in Georgia. Estimates run from a quarter of a million to many hundreds of thousands more. What is known is that they are prevalent in certain industries, like agriculture, construction, poultry processing and carpet mills.

What surprised many of those on both sides of the issue was how silent the state’s business leaders were during the debate, even as national business groups had spoken against Washington legislation focused on employers of illegal workers.

Senator Rogers said this was partly a result of supporters of the bill reaching out to those who employed illegal immigrants in Georgia and shaping the bill to meet their objections. Even at the 11th hour, he said, changes were made so that some of the enforcement provisions deemed most onerous by business owners would not take effect for several years, giving them time to prepare.

Mr. King said he thought employers simply sensed the new public mood. “They could see the writing on the wall,” he said.

Wishful thinking, Senator Zamarripa said. He said business owners had been quite active behind the scenes getting those provisions of the bill softened to which they objected and having the rest deferred to later years, giving them time to push for superseding federal legislation.

“What you saw, I think, was a fairly typical business reaction, which was that they would not let this all play out in public,” Mr. Zamarripa said. “Instead, they turned it over to their lobbyists. A lot of stuff got pushed far into the future. The strategy was to delay implementation while they transferred their work to the national level.”

Without question, Mr. Rogers said, the bill changed through the session, and especially in the final days before it was passed. An initial provision to put a 5 percent tax on foreign cash wire transfers by those without proper residency documents was discarded, partly because some groups had complained, but also because it would have been unwieldy to enforce, he said.

HERE for entire article and photos.