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Community Joins Debate Over GA Immigration Reform Bill


Georgia awaits the decision of Governor Nathan Deal as he prepares to sign the HB 87 Bill, also called "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011". Prepared by Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree city, this Arizona style Immigration Enforcement Bill is an attempt to crack down on illegal and undocumented immigrants in the state of Georgia. 

If enforced, employers will be required to avail of a free federal E-Verify system that is operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration.

The new law would require Georgia businesses with more than 10 employees to use the federal E-Verify program to determine whether their new hires are eligible to work in the United States.

It would empower local and state police to arrest illegal immigrants and transport them to state and federal jails. 

People who use fake identification to get a job in Georgia are liable to be punished with up to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. 
It would penalize people who — while committing another crime — knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come to Georgia. First-time offenders would face imprisonment for up to 12 months and up to $1,000 in fines.

The proponents of the bill claim that the State is burdened by an expenditure of nearly $ 2.5 billion on undocumented immigrants involving funding for education and care in emergency rooms. 

The opponents of the bill assert that while reform is overdue, such a bill only encourages profiling on the basis of race and community. It would also target specific people who might be considered as aiding and harboring illegal immigrants.

Indian-Americans comprise of approximately 1% of the US population amounting to about 2.7 million Indian-Americans attribute to approx. 60% of all hotel ownership in the country and are responsible for the creation of a number amount of jobs. 

Ritesh Desai, Partner, The Saffron Group, LLC explains “In Georgia alone, there are several businesses that are subsidiaries or extensions of Indian companies i.e. Wipro, Larsen & Toubro, NIIT, etc. These companies employ hundreds of people and are an integral part of Georgia’s corporate fabric. HB87 would be a strong deterrent to other such companies considering their move from India to Georgia. This bill would be counter -productive to the great work done by the office of the Governor, Department of Economic Development, several local, regional and bi-national chambers that work hard every day to attract new international businesses to locate in the State of Georgia.” 

His sentiments are echoed by Terri Simmons, partner in the immigration practice team of Arnall, Golden and Gregory. In an informal interview, Ms Simmons admitted that the bill might affect the number of Indian clients who might be prevented the ease of doing business in Georgia. AGG currently services at least one renowned Indian client. 

According to State Representative Pedro Marin (D- GA), this bill has come at a wrong time. He says that the bill is going to discourage business in Georgia. The $4 million revenue generated by the convention and visitor bureau is revealing change in location. “Imagine a decline that is ten times or twenty times more,” echoes Marin. 

Representative Hugh Floyd (D- GA) told NRI Pulse “I don’t support the bill. All the Democrats voted NO.” Floyd further reiterated his support of immigrant business communities. However Floyd expressed his concerns regarding the additions to the overall problems that illegal immigration might cause.
Georgia’s diverse business of agriculture, poultry, and restaurant and carpet associations as well as the chamber of commerce are all opposing the Bill. The 68 billion dollar agriculture industry employs almost half its workers on leases. Some of the seasonal workers who arrive on tourist visas are undocumented. The exact nature of legality is difficult to define. A number of immigrants who arrived during the economic boom between 2006 & 2007 suffered lay -offs during the 2009 recessions and have not left the country. 

Neera Bahl Esq, prinicipal attorney of Neera Bhal & Associates, LLC clarifies, “ Among other things, HB 87 requires certain private employers to utilize the cumbersome and onerous E-Verify system, which is likely to put many small business owners at the risk of noncompliance, resulting in heavy fines and even imprisonment. Every business in Georgia will be required to complete an affidavit before the county or municipal government, in regards to compliance with this law in order to obtain or renew their business license or occupational tax certificate.”

For Bahl, several sections of the bill are clearly not well defined. She asks, “Once again we are faced with a definitional problem. What does "substantially help" mean? No one knows, so how can a person actually harbor an "illegal alien?" 

She elucidates with an example. “Let's suppose that some creative judge or prosecutor comes up with a definition, and then we are faced with the problem of who can actually be convicted of a crime under this section and who cannot. Clearly, there are three groups of people who cannot be convicted of harboring: 1. a person providing services to infants, children or victims of crimes; 2. a person providing emergency medical services (hospitals, ambulance drivers, etc.), or 3. an attorney representing a criminal defendant.”

Aparna Bhattacharya, Director of Raksha, a non profit organization for the South Asian community is concerned about the ways the bill is going to impact victims of human rights violations. “The bill will have an impact on individuals who are victims/ survivors of domestic violence or other crimes who do not have proof of their status or a form identification. Oftentimes, they may be undocumented due to their abuser not filing immigration paperwork or letting it expire. In many abuse cases, community members may not be allowed to carry the documents. If they get stopped by the police for some reason - it could be a problem. As I understand the law if you have a driver's license, a government issued identification it should be enough. While there are many options and some federal relief for victims of many crimes especially domestic violence provided they meet certain criteria: this bill decreases the trust community members will have in calling the police for help.” she opines.

Both Rep. Marin and Rep. Floyd express concerns about the possible expenses that court litigation and boycott is going to cost the state. They opine that immigration is a federal matter and foresee problems that signing the Bill might invite. The Federal court case regarding the Arizona Bill is still pending and drafters of the bill have made efforts to word the bill in an attempt any litigation in the future. Marin is vocal on what such an unprecedented piece of legislation might do. “The last thing I want to see is fifty states with fifty different laws in their books” he says. 

Several communities have been vocal in their opposition, prompting a few legislators such as Rep. Marin to send a letter to Governor Deal to refrain from signing the bill. Some of the emerging business communities have expressed concern on how the bill is going to affect their ventures. 

Helen Kim Ho, Esq,Executive Director, Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, Inc. (AALAC) of Georgia is equivocal on her stand. She says, “The Korean business community has been speaking out and sharing information on what’s going on locally with their foreign business leads and consulates, because they understand that a state that does not care for it's immigrant citizen population should not also be benefiting from the demographics by luring foreign businesses to our state under the guise that our state is hospitable and diverse”.

Desai sums up aptly, “Generally speaking, it is fair to say that Indian-Americans around the country object to illegal immigration. It is true that the illegal immigration issue is one of great concern to all legal, tax -paying residents of the United States. This issue as it relates to Indian-Americans residing in Georgia and the business community is of utmost importance. It is pertinent that the business community work hand-in-hand with the government to find a suitable solution to reduce the impact of illegal employment in Georgia. However, HB 87 is clearly not the answer.” 

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