Deal signs tough illegal immigration bill

1:14 AM, May 14, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Deal signs tough illegal immigration bill

Governor Nathan Deal (R-Georgia) signs new immigration crackdown bill.

ATLANTA -- Maybe it's because Governor Nathan Deal signed it on Friday the 13th, but Georgia's new anti-illegal immigration bill is going to be unlucky for somebody.

The question is whether it will be the state's estimated half-million illegal residents or much of the rest of the state and its economy.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Deal signed House Bill 87 as about two dozen protestors chanted "shame on you" in the hallway outside his State Capitol office.

"Today we're taking action to uphold the rule of law," the Governor said.

The new law, part of which becomes effective July 1st, will allow (but not require) police to check the citizenship of people being arrested for another offense.

It also requires most employers to check their workers' status and punishes people who harbor or transport illegal immigrants.

Supporters were jubilant.

"Viva House Bill 87," said illegal immigration opponent D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society.

"Right now the sound you may hear is illegal aliens packing up and leaving Georgia for more hospitable states," he added.

Opponents claim the new Arizona-style law will drive off thousands of needed workers, devastating many Georgia businesses, especially the state's largest product, agriculture.

"The message that this is sending to the world is that you are not welcome in Georgia. You shouldn't come to Georgia," said Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Latino Elected Officials.

Governor Deal said he hopes a threatened boycott doesn't happen, but added that even if it does, the cost wouldn't come close to the more than $2-billion Georgia taxpayers spend every year in public services for illegal residents.

"The cost of illegal immigration in my opinion far outweighs any of the dangers that may be threatened by boycotts," the Governor said.

The primary author of the new law, Rep. Matt Ramsey, (R) Peachtree City, said Friday night that the law will definitely convince one group to stay out of Georgia -- illegal immigrants.  Ramsey agreed with Gov. Deal that illegal immigrants are costing the state much more than any boycotts or lawsuits might cost.

"Ten percent of our state's K-12 population is an illegal alien or child of an illegal alien.  That's more than a billion dollars a year, alone, right there.  Costs to law enforcement, costs to our transportation infrastructure and our health care system.... You're talking about taxpayers bearing the brunt of a $2.4 billion a year hit, to subsidize 500,000 illegal aliens.  The cost of doing nothing is staggering."

Ironically, Gov. Deal signed the bill just days before going on a European trip to drum up more business for Georgia.

He doesn't think it will have a negative impact on that effort.

"Many of them already have businesses in the State of Georgia and they're very well aware that this is a great place to do business for those who wish to abide by the law and I have no reason to think that they would expect us to do otherwise," Deal said.

Immigration attorneys are already drawing up a legal challenge, similar to those that have stalled immigration laws in Arizona and Utah.

No word yet on whether President Obama's administration will file a challenge like they did against Arizona's law.

The spokesman for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Matt Benson, told 11Alive News Friday that "most of the boycotts against Arizona fizzled out, most of them were abandoned" over the past year.

Benson said that any negative economic impact of the year-old Arizona law is difficult to measure because the boycotts were being promoted while the state was in the midst of the general economic downturn, anyway.

"The effect has not been long-lasting," Benson said.  "The travel and tourism industries are picking up.  Many folks are saying they're coming to Arizona because of our immigration law."

Benson is aware of one study that claims the boycotts have cost Arizona about $140 million over the past year, which Benson thinks is on the high side.  Regardless, "$140 million is a small fraction of the Arizona economy."

In Georgia, Rep. Ramsey said Friday he hopes that the new Georgia law will go into effect, as planned, over the next two years, without any court challenges delaying or reversing any part of it:

"I think you're going to see illegal aliens, when they cross into our country illegally and they look at what state they're going to come to, they're going to realize that Georgia has among, if not the, toughest, state-level immigration enforcement laws in the country, and they're going to go somewhere else.  And that's exactly what we want to happen."

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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