Georgia: On Immigration, Speeding Down a Dead-End Street

The anti-immigration bills in Georgia suffer from many of the same problems as those in Arizona. They would open up the state to lawsuits if a private citizen feels that they failed to use employment verification.
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Last year, Arizona set off a national firestorm when it passed SB 1070, legislation widely seen as unconstitutional and condemned for legitimizing racial profiling. The brand of politics that led to this law pushes all the buttons of a public legitimately frustrated with federal inaction on immigration. Sadly, it delivers no solution to the issue, nor does it help the state with its catastrophic budget woes unless distraction is regarded as help. Why, then, would legislators in Georgia choose to drag their state down this same rocky path?

Consider what has happened in Arizona. The law has been decried by prominent leaders in the state, including the mayors of Phoenix and Tucson, as well as the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and more than 55 city councils and state legislatures. Various boycotts of the state by performing artists and civil rights organizations, plus travel bans by a variety of entities, have cost the Arizona tourism industry dearly. To date, cancellations and a decline in bookings have lost the state as much as $217 million in tourism and convention business. Moreover, the state has racked up legal fees of well over $1 million in just the first three months following the law's passage, and the state's image has suffered incalculable damage. And all of this comes after several other harsh anti-immigrant laws were already passed in Arizona under the same pretext as SB 1070, namely, that they would "fix the problem." They ended up being false solutions, just like this new racial profiling law.

The anti-immigration bills in Georgia suffer from many of the same problems as those in Arizona. They would open up any official, agency, or subdivision of the state to lawsuits if a private citizen feels that they failed to use employment verification, even though the system in question is still in its pilot phase. They would also subject a priest, family member, or Good Samaritan to criminal sanctions for transporting an undocumented person, expose banks, landlords, and others to criminal sanctions if they engage in transactions with people in the country illegally, and shift the focus of local law enforcement from criminal behavior to a person's legal status.

Many states are already putting the brakes on SB 1070 copycat legislation due to its troublesome consequences. Kentucky, for example, estimated that implementing such a law would cost the state "a net $40 million a year in court, prison, and foster care fees," which excludes business, tourism, and related losses already reported in Arizona. And those losses would be even greater in Georgia since Atlanta is a renowned international business center, home to some of the most important companies in the United States, including Coca Cola, UPS, NCR, Delta, and CNN, and it has a rich and unique civil rights history. Indeed, Atlanta will host the annual Civil Rights Game on May 15 between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. Let's hope the governor does not choose to welcome this celebration by passing a law that codifies racial profiling and trades our tradition of civil rights for cheap politics and empty solutions.

Some believe that capitalizing on Americans' frustration with Congressional inaction on this issue is good politics. We don't. If Georgia's legislators want to see a real solution on immigration, we encourage them to join business, law enforcement, religious, and civil rights voices demanding that Congress, which has the jurisdiction to fix this problem, take action. Perhaps then, State Senator Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) could answer his own question -- "Do you want immigration reform or not?"--truly in the affirmative. Sadly, his bill does not.

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus overwhelmingly voted against the current Assembly bill and previous iterations. Prominent state voices representing a diverse set of views, including the Georgia Catholic Conference, the state's Restaurant Association, and the Georgia Farm Bureau, have openly opposed these measures while urging federal reform. We urge Governor Deal to heed these voices -- and those of many Americans who have chosen to shun Arizona -- by vetoing this legislation and demonstrating that speeding down a dead-end street is not a smart choice for his state.

Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations working for an America as good as its ideals.

Janet Murguía is President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, which works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.

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