I voted yes to the earlier Senate version which was fairly constructed and reasonable. It held an approach to a situation that Congress created and is charged with overseeing. It also was an effort on the part of some members to attack the proliferation of illegal immigration since the passage of NAFTA, a federal act passed in the 1990s through a Republican Congress and a Democratic President.
NAFTA had in its roots an effort to compete with a European Union and the Pacific rim countries. As happens so often to much legislation, there are unfortunate and unintended consequences (although some people are suspect as to their knowledge of those consequences). In this case an example would be big business trying to drive down the cost of labor to nearly the level of indentured servitude. Unfortunately, during that time many American corporations were moving to foreign countries (to the very nations with whom they say they wish to compete) including their corporate headquarters, factories and their tax liability off shore.
The labor movement was spawned early in the last century by violent acts committed against workers by the Pinkerton Detective Agency at the behest of the robber barons. Factory fires in New York City occurred and hundreds of women perished hurling themselves out of windows as they had no other avenues of escape due to terrible workplace conditions.
The labor movement was an absolute necessity in order to bring a balance of safety laws and integrity to the workplace.
The resultant labor unions have not always been their own best friend, i.e. the unwanted elements who fought for and gained control several decades ago. However, the labor movement was and is a real part of our history and our country's system, and the balance of safety laws and integrity in the American workplace is still vital and necessary. It is my sincere prayer that business and labor do not repeat these past mistakes.
As legal and illegal immigration mushroomed following the passage of NAFTA, many people from Mexico, in a desperate effort to feed their families and better their lives "ran the beltline" or "jumped the fence" and crossed the river into this country. I quite frankly wonder who amongst us would not try it ourselves if it meant feeding our children.
While the Hispanic demographic happens to be the number two ethnic group to win the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of our nation, I want every person in this country to pay their taxes where they earn their living, and certainly not to send it out of the United States. I also want to provide some road or path for those who have children who are American citizens.
Congress should pass the proper legislation, fund the effort, and then secure the borders to ensure that only legal immigration occurs.
I have voted for legislation which would require that immigrants, within six years of their arrival in this country, take any drivers' test in English. I also introduced and debated, during the legislative session this year, an amendment that would tackle the real problem: individuals who provide false green cards, visas, or stolen Social Security numbers. My amendment was that these individuals would be charged with a felony, and would serve no less than five years in prison. Unfortunately, my amendment was voted down by the "get tough" crowd that just wasn't quite tough enough on that day.
Ultimately, I refused to take a bow for passing a measure that does nothing positive and which will cost our state millions of dollars for doing the job of Congress.
The final bill, HB 87, actually puts small and medium sized businesses in very real danger of breaking state law. They will be held liable if they do not use the federal registry called "E-Verify." An example:
"A subcontractor shall not enter into any contract with a contractor unless such subcontractor registers and participates in the federal work authorization program. A subcontractor shall submit, at the time of such contract, an affidavit to the contractor in the same manner and with the same information required in paragraph (1) of this subsection. It shall be the duty of any subcontractor receiving an affidavit from a sub-subcontractor to forward notice to the contractor of the receipt, within five business days of receipt, of such affidavit. It shall be the duty of a subcontractor receiving notice of receipt of an affidavit from any sub-subcontractor that has contracted with a sub-subcontractor to forward, within five business days of receipt, a copy of such notice to the contractor." (Page 4, lines 125 through 134, HB 87).
Did you understand that? I can guarantee that a small businessman or businesswoman will not either. But wait: That's not all. On behalf of the agribusiness community, the provisions in the bill allow exemption from this for any business with 10 or less employees. Who do you think is the major employer of the illegal immigrants? So most of the labor force is not even addressed in the law!
Also, earlier in this past legislative session, the "get tough" crowd passed a bill which would require that anyone arrested on a DUI, if they are illegal, would be charged with a felony on the first offense. They can take another bow. This sounds good on the surface, but actually, before being deported, these illegals would serve time in a Georgia prison. The cost involved to maintain that person would involve a bed that costs $56,000 to build, and costs $26,000 per year to maintain. That is almost $200,000 per immigrant!
These measures were passed without fiscal notes which would explain how much of our Georgia tax dollars it would take to implement these measures. The state of Utah claims a cost of $12 million, but Georgia is a much larger state which would multiply the costs and with the same economic problems.
In effect, we have passed a measure that does not punish the people responsible for the issue and that creates a substantial tax liability for Georgia citizens in order to enforce a law that is the responsibility of Congress to start with.
This bill creates constitutional questions Georgia will spend millions to defend and lose the case. It also gives Georgia and its citizens an additional black eye in the international community by punishing the wrong people.
It is truly an unfortunate fact that we in the legislature cannot work together to pass a reasonable law that all of us who do not approve of illegal immigration can support. How "tough" does it sound now? This senator, whose heritage includes Scotch, Irish, English, Dutch, and some American Indian, wishes that we all could have been silently pleased with our efforts and that we could have provided legislation where no one would feel the need to grandstand or take a bow, for what is in fact our job.
Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) is the Dean of the Georgia Senate.