November 27, 2008

MALDEF, ACLU, local race-baiters ( Hola, Ken Waldrop of Woodstock, Ga.) lobby against enforcement of American immigration law in Cherokee County, Georgia

Posted by D.A. King at 12:23 pm - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

Cherokee Ledger News
26 November, 2008

Commissioners take comments on harboring ordinance
By Carolyn Mathews

A public hearing on Cherokee County’s proposed “Harboring Illegal Aliens” ordinance brought out speakers who said legal action against those who are undocumented is long overdue, along with speakers who warned that the passage of such an ordinance would cost the county thousands of dollars in legal fees, while further depressing the business climate in the county. About 50 people attended, and more than 20 addressed commissioners with their concerns.

Both Post 1 Commissioner Harry Johnston and Post 2 Commissioner Jim Hubbard said they were surprised the crowd was so small, considering the controversy surrounding the county’s previous attempt at a similar ordinance, which is in litigation.

(Left: Kris Kobach, second from left, a specialist in immigration law, explains the merits of the proposed ordinance to, from left, county attorney Angela Davis, Post 4 Commissioner Derek Good, Post 3 Commissioner Karen Bosch, and Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens.)

Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the Board of Commissioners would consider the input it got at the Nov. 17 public hearing and would allow time for continued public input over the next two months, not taking any action on the ordinance before the second county commission meeting in January.

The proposed ordinance, which addresses both the housing and the employment of illegal aliens, is designed to take the place of an ordinance that outlawed only the renting of dwellings to those in the country illegally. That ordinance was scheduled to take effect in 2007, after the commission unanimously approved it at the end of 2006. It was never enforced, and currently is stayed under a consent agreement by a U.S. District Court judge after it was almost immediately challenged in court.

The lawsuit against the county was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the law firms Troutman Sanders LLP and Hernan, Taylor & Lee.

Attorneys for those who challenged the original ordinance say that if the BOC passes the newly proposed ordinance, in will be in violation of the current injunction.

Alan Lubel, an attorney with Troutman Sanders, called the new proposal, “an attempt to pull an end-run on the judge’s injunction.”

“If the commission passes this ordinance, the housing part will put them in violation of the court order,” he said “We will proceed in the existing lawsuit to enforce the judge’s order.”

The newly proposed ordinance includes a new section that imposes local penalties against some businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers and brings the county into compliance with recent state laws by requiring those applying for a business license in the county to check the status of all workers.

It changes the method by which the housing of illegal immigrants would be determined, by having every renter over the age of 18 register with the county business license office and provide proof of citizenship.

It is designed by University of Missouri law professor Kris Kobach, who has designed many similar ordinances on a national level, several still under litigation. Kobach spoke on the intention and design of the ordinance at the pubic hearing.

Kobach noted that a new law regarding undocumented workers is being enforced in Arizona, after being upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. v. Napolitano. He said it has met with “dramatic” success. He said Cherokee’s proposal, which would require county employers to check their employees’ status using the federal E-Verify system, is similar to the Arizona program.

“The threat of enforcement produced real results,” he said of the Arizona law. “When incentives are stronger to obey laws, they are obeyed. There’s a significant amount of evidence that the illegal workforce self-deports, and that’s what we want to achieve.”

Woodstock residents Billy and Kathy Inman both gave comments to the board. Billy Inman told commissioners the story of an automobile accident in June 2000 in which his 16-year-old son, Dustin, was killed and his wife, Kathy, was injured. Stopped at a traffic light in Ellijay, their vehicle was struck from behind, and they were sandwiched between the striking vehicle and a car in front of them. The driver behind them, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, who had a valid North Carolina driver’s license, was allegedly in the country illegally. He fled from an Ellijay hospital after the accident and was never apprehended. Inman contends that if Harrell-Gonzalez were not in the country illegally, the accident would not have happened.

“I can’t bring my son back, but I don’t want anyone else to go through the crap I’ve been through,” Inman said. “It’s not right.”

John Fincher, of Canton, who was present at the meeting, said he wanted to know why commissioners were taking on a federal issue. “Seventy-five percent of those in attendance were not Cherokee County residents,” he said.

Several of those who spoke to commissioners said the presence of Hispanics in their neighborhoods was bringing their property values down. Tricia Grindel, of Cherokee Forest Subdivision, called the Hispanic population a “blight on the neighborhood,” and worried that many of the men in the county without families “walk in packs in the streets late at night.”

Grindel said illegal immigrants were “a slap in the face of everyone who immigrates using proper procedures.”

Ken Waldrop, of Woodstock, asked who paid the consulting bill for Kobach’s advice, and wanted to know why the county was spending the money on the proposal while county revenues are down.

“Immigration laws will pass (on the federal level),” he said. “There certainly does seem to be an element of racism here.”

Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, and a Cherokee resident, said she was concerned and dismayed at the proposed “scattershot” ordinance.

“It puts the county at the risk of huge litigation costs,” she said. She noted a New York Times article from Sept. 26, 2007, in which the mayor of Riverside, N.J., George Conrad, who had originally voted in favor of a similar ordinance, said, “I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden. A lot of people did not look three years out.” That ordinance against hiring and renting to undocumented immigrants was rescinded, but Kobach claims it was never enforced.

Seagraves said that the housing portion of the Cherokee proposed ordinance, which requires every adult renter in the county to obtain a $5 renter’s license, would create a “database of renters.”

“That’s downright un-American,” she said. “You are adding to the burdens of families who are on the brink of financial disaster and are renting their homes because they can’t sell them.”

Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the ACLU, said that no restricted housing ordinance has ever stood up in court, and that the county would be facing a “difficult and costly legal battle for an ordinance the would fail to withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

She said Farmer’s Branch, Texas, has spent more than $900,000 fighting a legal battle over a similar ordinance, and Escondido, Calif., has spent more than $1 million. Neither of those figures, she said, included attorneys’ fees.

Elise Shore, an attorney with MALDEF, agreed with Lubel, arguing that the current ordinance that is stayed and the new proposal both have the same purpose, and the same effect, to discourage landlords from renting to a certain group and to exclude a certain group from renting. She said passage of a new ordinance and the subsequent repeal of the one in litigation would be a violation of the injunction.

D.A. King, an activist on the subject of those in the country without documentation, told commissioners he hopes the ordinance is passed and enforced and that “illegal aliens migrate out of the community.”

He said his sister, who was born in Korea, is an immigrant and the term “immigrant” applies to “those who are here lawfully and do not require amnesty.”

“I think it’s shameful to blur the line,” he said.

Meg Rogers, director of Cherokee Family Violence Center, asked commissioners if the proposed ordinance would affect their efforts to find housing for victims of domestic violence who were in the process of obtaining legal status, and worried that the ordinance might prohibit women in danger from calling them for fear of being turned into authorities.

Kobach said that the enforcement of the ordinance, if passed, would be at the direction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He said if a complaint is turned in on a business for employing undocumented workers, or a renter can’t prove citizenship, the county business license office would contact the federal government, which he said is bound by law to provide information on citizenship status to state and local governments. Kobach said the county would be instructed to use either the federal E-Verify system for employment or the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program for benefit entitlement.

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