Friday, May 6, 2011

Georgia Anti Illegal Immigration Legislation

State lawmakers were successful in passing anti-illegal immigration legislation last month.  Locally, House Bill 87 was supported by local representatives Mike Jacobs, Tom Taylor (House) and Fran Millar (Senate).  The bill was much stronger in Jacobs and Taylor’s House of Representatives, but Millar’s Senate watered down the bill before passing it. But will the new law have an effect on DeKalb residents?

When it comes to new legislation being approved by lawmakers, whether it is on the local or federal level, the new laws either focus on safety or financial issues.  The new anti-illegal immigration law in Georgia hits on both safety and financial issues.  Does the new law make DeKalb County and its cities like Chamblee or Dunwoody safer?  Not much, if any, in the short term.  I could not find any statistics for local cities (or DeKalb) that tell us how many crimes are committed by illegal immigrants.  But if a person of such status does commit a crime, their lack of legal residence in the USA is not going to keep them from being back on the streets in DeKalb County.  

Like most other cities in DeKalb, Dunwoody’s police department uses the DeKalb County jail for prisoners.  DeKalb County does not participate in a Federal program called 287(g). In brief, 287(g) is a program funded by the federal government that allows local jailers to check immigration status of persons arrested and jailed for breaking other laws.  A person found to be illegally in our country can then be transferred to ICE (Immigration) for deportation.  Fulton County does not participate either. Gwinnett and Cobb both participate in 287(g).  In summary, if you are an illegal immigrant in Cobb or Gwinnett and arrested for a crime, there is a good chance you will rightfully be deported.  Not the same story for DeKalb County. If you want illegal immigrants deported after committing another crime (the first crime is being here illegally), then contact your county commissioner and suggest they support the county signing up for the 287(g) program.  But I doubt you’ll see DeKalb County take the necessary steps for participating in 287(g).  There are many illegal immigrants in DeKalb.  They pay sales tax, they own homes, and they rent apartments while the apartment complex owners pay property taxes.  DeKalb does not want to lose that revenue, nor do they want their population to decrease.  

The main focus of Georgia’s new anti-illegal immigration legislation is E-verify, a federal program that makes it difficult to hire illegal labor.  Companies with ten or more employees will now have to use E-verify when screening new employees. The fact that Georgia companies must use E-verify will hopefully deter illegal immigrants from taking up residency in Georgia. But the watered down version of this new law does nothing to rid Georgia of illegals already on Georgia payrolls, nor does it deal with day laborer centers.
The Hispanic population has dramatically increased in DeKalb the past ten years (I know, not all Hispanics in DeKalb are illegal aliens) and increased 96% in Georgia overall.  The financial impact to cities and unincorporated DeKalb regarding this new law is minimal, if anything, in the short term.  But if the law acts as a deterrent to new growth of illegal immigrants in DeKalb County and statewide, there are benefits.  Schools are a good place to start. Schools are required to provide classroom instruction for ELL’s (English Language Learners) via the ESOL program.  The funds used to teach kids to speak English are funds not being used to teach English-speaking kids math, science, and reading.  There are some positive reasons for the ESOL program and not all non-English speaking kids are illegal. But in general, illegal immigrants of school age (and the children of illegal immigrants) cause the cost of education in DeKalb and in Georgia to be higher.  One national group estimates Georgia has over 133,000 students in public schools who are either here illegally or born here from illegal immigrant parents, costing nearly $1.3 billion a year to house in public schools.  DeKalb Schools, with a budget of $1 billion and 100,000 students, is approximately 11% Hispanic and growing.

Although a good start, House Bill 87 is not strict enough.  Hopefully next year a few Republican senators will act more like conservatives and do what’s best for Georgia and its legal residents.

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