January 27, 2011

Insider Advantage Georgia: Immigration fight could wound both parties

Posted by D.A. King at 3:30 pm - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

Insider Advantage Georgia – a subscription Website

(Note: The below is re-posted here with permission. We are gratfeul to IAG and editor Gary Reese IAG Homepage HERE)

Immigration fight could wound both parties
Gary Reese


The only certain thing about potential passage of an “Arizona-style” immigration law in Georgia is that it would probably doom the Democratic Party to further irrelevance. The media focus and the inevitable, further polarization on the issue of illegal immigration will likely cause liberal and conservative voters to close ranks even more around their political own. That can’t be good for Democrats, who now hold no statewide elective offices, and who strain to muster enough strength to matter in the General Assembly.

State Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, on Wednesday filed a bill that mimics the internationally known law that passed in Arizona in 2010. Among other things, Ramsey’s bill would require law enforcement officers to try to determine the immigration status of a suspect if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant; would require private employers to use a federal database (E-Verify) to check the eligibility of new employees; would require Georgia residents to provide proper documentation when applying for public benefits; and would provide “incentives” to encourage Georgia law-enforcement agencies to partner with federal immigration-enforcement agencies.

None can know how this will end. Even if the business lobby can be soothed by supporters of the bill and it passes into law, the federal government almost certainly would sue to overturn the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Key provisions of the Arizona bill have been overturned by the courts. So again, the only certainty appears to be the political fallout from the coming effort to enact the bill into law.

Reflexive, passionate opposition to the bill and its supporters has already started. The AJC offered opinion on Wednesday that passage of one of the bill’s provision would make people hesitant to speak to any stranger, and would put commercial bus drivers in jeopardy of breaking the law if they unwittingly transported illegals here. El Nuevo Georgia, a Spanish-language publication, featured in a recent edition a photo of Gov. Nathan Deal that was doctored to make him look like Adolph Hitler. Deal has said he would be likely to sign into law legislation similar to Ramsey’s bill.

The public-relations strategy of Ramsey and supporters of the bill is to portray illegal immigrants as taking jobs away from legal Georgia residents. Georgia’s unemployment hovers around 10 percent.

Ramsey says his bill has been carefully written to avoid the potential problems with such laws in other states that have left them vulnerable to lawsuits, and to opposition from businesses and public safety officials, some of whom say such laws are too expensive and burdensome for proper enforcement.

D.A. King, Georgia’s nationally known pro-enforcement immigration activist, commented on Ramsey’s bill in his characteristically blunt style: “Hooray for [Ramsey’s] courage! I am confident his bill will pass into law. If it is actually enforced, it will help protect jobs for Georgians and go a long way towards encouraging illegal aliens to migrate out of Georgia. … We are lucky to have a governor who campaigned with promises to support and sign exactly this sort of legislation. All eyes should be trained on the sources of opposition to Ramsey’s legislation,” he said.

Don’t look for nearly as much national media focus on Georgia as was trained on Arizona over passage of its own immigration reform law. Unlike Arizona, Georgia is not a border state, and its Latino community – much of it underground – is not the open political force it is out West. And while Arizona was a pathfinder on trying to more effectively police illegal immigration, Georgia is only one of a number of states that is playing “me-too” with Arizona. National media focus likely will be more intense in places like California, where a try at passing such a law is going to jeopardize Republican political clout just it could endanger Democratic prowess in Georgia.

Perhaps the most interesting political theater in Georgia will be to watch the GOP caucus at the Gold Dome. Some media have been floating the idea that there is a rift among social conservative Republicans and their party-mates who are interested more in fiscal and economic conservatism. The consensus among lawmakers and lobbyists IAG talks to is that this media model of a philosophical divide might be too neatly portrayed.

We may be about to find out. If the business lobby feels that the onus of enforcement of illegal immigration is going to fall unfairly on it, Ramsey’s or similar bills might be imperiled. After all, if Ramsey’s bill becomes law, won’t the new requirements for increased enforcement responsibilities for businesses constitute more “regulation,” and in an ailing economy? Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle expressed just these sentiments this week to a large audience of businessmen and –women at a breakfast hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

On Wednesday, the Chamber’s Joselyn Baker said, “While we haven’t had a chance to review the bill, we are watching this issue closely to make sure that what is ultimately passed does not place unreasonable burdens onto business, in particular with regard to enforcement. Our hope is that employers are provided with uniform standards to follow and that those who make good-faith efforts to follow the law will be indemnified.”

The key may be the governor. If he stands foursquare behind a new, comprehensive law, it may be hard for conservative lobbies to resist passage.

Agribusiness leaders in Georgia also have expressed concern about cracking down on illegal immigration. Many say they are afraid a law like Ramsey’s proposed one would badly crimp their supply of field labor. But D.A. King insists that isn’t so.

“The H2A Ag workers visa is being treated as a secret by the media at large. It shouldn’t be. With the H2A visa, agriculture employers nationwide, including Georgia, can import an unlimited number of foreign [agriculture] workers who are trying to obey the rules and feed their families,” said King.

All this should make for a spicy stew of back-and-forth politics at the Capitol over the coming weeks.