H.B. 87: Ensuring Georgia Has a Legal Workforce

Georgia Must Have a Legal Workforce
By Phil Kent

Publisher Neely Young asked me to explain why the General Assembly passed House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act. I’m pleased to do so. But Neely, why continually label it an “anti-immigrant” bill as you did in your November column? That’s inaccurate and blurs the lines as to what H.B. 87 is meant to do: namely, to ensure that Georgia has a legal workforce by protecting jobs and public benefits from the crime of illegal immigration.

The heart of the new law is to expand the use of the online federal e-verify requirements for businesses with 11 or more workers. Sixteen other states have enacted laws mandating e-verify and the program is supported by the Obama administration.

Last spring the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the use of e-verify and other state immigration control tools. It de-magnetizes an important magnet that draws illegal laborers here. Employers use this system at no cost to check the employment eligibility of new hires. H.B. 87 requires effected employers to swear to use of e-verify on applications for business license issue or renewal. Unintentional, “good faith” violations must be corrected in 30 days.

The law further punishes people with up to 15 years in prison and hefty fines if they use fake identification to get a job. There are also specific prohibitions against racial profiling.

By the way, the Department of Homeland Security website astonishingly reports that Georgia has almost as many illegal aliens as in border state Arizona. This translates into taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars on them in areas ranging from healthcare services to our jails. State Rep. Rich Golick places the law’s passage into perspective:

“How can we justify spending one taxpayer dollar on people who are here illegally when local governments and school systems are reducing services and firing teachers? We can’t. Georgia has a very rational interest in ensuring that these public benefits are expended on individuals who are here legally, and my sense is that this was the primary motivator as to why the vast majority of the General Assembly (Democrat and Republican) supported enactment of H.B. 87.”

The law established a seven-member Immigration Enforcement Review Board, but its role has been misinterpreted by some in the media. Georgia Trend’s publisher, for example, wrote, “I believe that all of the newly-appointed members of the anti-illegal immigrant commission have gladly used illegal immigrant workers in the past and were happy to use their services…. So the commissioners’ first action should be to fine themselves $5,000.” Huh?

Sorry, Neely, but let’s be clear on the duties and limits of the board. First, if you don’t knowingly hire illegal workers, one shouldn’t worry. But second, the Enforcement Review Board does NOT regulate private employers. It is only authorized to evaluate and act upon written complaints against public officials, public agencies and public employees.

Indeed, H.B. 87 says applicants for public benefits must provide ID credentials regarded as “secure and verifiable” to document what they are already supposed to have sworn to on an affidavit: namely, that the applicant is eligible for benefits because they are a U.S. citizen or an eligible alien. All agencies administering public benefits have had to collect this affidavit since 2007. Former Secretary of State Cathy Cox claims these added security measures are “catastrophic.” That’s sheer exaggeration. H.B. 87 allows benefits-issuing agencies the authorization to collect both the sworn affidavit and the ID electronically. The law makes delivering the required affidavit and now the secure ID much easier, not more difficult as some opponents suggest.

A final thought. Some farmers say H.B. 87 is causing labor shortages and hurts production. What they don’t usually mention is that there is a federal H2A agricultural visa that can be obtained to hire foreign guest workers if no Americans apply for the job. There is no limit as to how many of these visas can be obtained, although employers using those guest workers must provide decent housing and food as well as pay an American wage. Unfortunately, some agriculture employers don’t want to pay the higher wage and provide the food and housing.

Let’s give H.B. 87 time to work, while remembering that “cheap” illegal labor is really not “cheap” at all to the taxpayer.
# # #

Phil Kent of Atlanta, a former Augusta Chronicle editorial page editor, is a member of the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board.