“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American ...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag ... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 1907.
On April 14, the last day of the 2011 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly agreed on compromise language and passed House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform Act.
Inspired and crafted after similar legislation passed in Arizona a few years ago, H.B. 87, if signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal as expected, makes our state one of the toughest in the nation in dealing with this national problem.
H.B. 87 came about as the culmination of a joint House and Senate Study Committee that met on numerous occasions last year and was charged with studying the social and economic consequences of illegal immigration in Georgia.
The findings of the study committee were staggering, with some estimates of the direct costs to state and local taxpayers running as high as $2.4 billion, burdening every segment of our state government and impacting critical services such as health care, transportation, k-12 education and transportation.
Under H.B. 87, all businesses in Georgia with more than 10 employees will be required to use the free and easy federal E-VERIFY system. This accurate, Internet-based federal database is designed to verify a person’s eligibility to legally work in the United States and is already used by more than 16,000 Georgia businesses.
H.B. 87 also provides new tools for law enforcement to handle immigration issues such as greater opportunities to prosecute those that knowingly harbor or transport illegal aliens in our state, or that knowingly entice entrance of illegal aliens into our state. It also provides law enforcement officers the ability to identify illegal aliens during the course of an investigation and penalizes government officials who fail to enforce state laws related to immigration.
As expected, many have been critical of H.B. 87, citing possible economic protests such as boycotts and have called on Deal to veto the measure.
As one who voted for H.B. 87, I certainly hope and expect that Deal will follow through on his promise to sign the measure so that it will become law.
But voting for H.B. 87 was both easy and difficult for many reasons.
Recognizing that agriculture is still the leading industry in our state and depends heavily on an available workforce is a major concern for all Georgians, especially those of us serving in the legislature. As our rural legislators so clearly articulated during debate of the bill, there’s only a certain window of opportunity to harvest crops, and you must have personnel to perform those duties. Certainly none of us want to negatively impact this vital Georgia industry.
We also recognize that we all came from immigrants and that our forefathers came here looking for a better life in this great land of opportunity.
But more importantly, we recognize that our basic responsibility is to follow the law, which is the cornerstone of our free Republic. H.B. 87 moves us in that direction.
While many may disagree on this issue, most of us agree that this is a federal problem that has been ignored.
Last week, in an interview with an Atlanta television station, President Barack Obama called H.B. 87 “a mistake” and said we shouldn’t have 50 different immigration laws around the country.
Without a comprehensive federal law dealing with this issue, states are left with no other choice but to deal with it themselves. With H.B. 87 in Georgia, we’ve done just that.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.