- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007


Immigration reform might be dead in Washington, but it’s only beginning in Georgia. On Sunday, more than a year after the state legislature passed a sweeping law to keep illegal aliens out of jobs, away from taxpayer-funded benefits and more easily within the reach of local police, most parts of the legislation went into effect.

Supporters say Senate Bill 529, as the law is known, only requires local governments to enforce federal immigration law — for example, verifying that adults applying for non-emergency public benefits are eligible under federal statutes.

Opponents, however, say the new law will make migrants — legal or not — more afraid of being scrutinized by government officials and law enforcement just because of the way they look or the language they speak.

“Part of S.B. 529 is implementing federal law, but ultimately it has created a very hostile environment,” said Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

Mr. Gonzalez and other advocates across the state say that some migrants are leaving Georgia and others will be driven further underground by fear that even services like an emergency-room visit or a 911 call could lead to harassment or deportation.

But the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Chip Rogers, and other supporters have promoted it as a way to reduce Georgia’s appeal for illegal aliens. “If S.B. 529 stops illegal activity, then that’s a success,” Mr. Rogers said.

What happens in Georgia will be watched by national groups that are concerned that last week’s collapse of efforts to change federal immigration law will spur more local governments to go forward with ordinances regulating immigration.

Among other measures, the new state law requires that all public employers and contractors with more than 500 employees ensure that all their new hires are eligible to work. Opponents of the law say that provision will hurt Georgia’s economy by driving away migrants, many of whom work in the poultry, carpet and farming industries, but state officials disagree.

“It is critical to our state that businesses are not participating in the hiring of illegal workers, and this law sets out specific mandates for employers that are reasonable and fair,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle last week.

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