Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash heard arguments from a coalition of immigration attorneys and civil rights organizations seeking to block implementation of Georgia’s new immigration law (HB 87) scheduled to go into effect July 1.
The attorneys are asking the federal court judge appointed by former President Bill Clinton to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the law until a pending lawsuit challenging it as unconstitutional is resolved.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s attorney general’s office has asked Judge Thrash to dismiss the lawsuit contending that the law was legally drafted.
Inspired and crafted after similar legislation passed in Arizona a few years ago, HB 87 makes Georgia one of the toughest states in the nation in dealing with this national problem.
Judge Thrash has indicated that he will rule on the preliminary injunction sometime this week before the law takes effect on July 1.
Included in the coalition filing the lawsuit is the ACLU of Georgia, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Among the things contended in the lawsuit is that Georgia and other states are barred from enforcing immigration laws since that responsibility belongs to the federal government.
Similar laws dealing with immigration in other states have gotten favorable results in the court systems. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona statute mirroring a substantial portion of Georgia’s HB 87 while the court ruled last week that states can require businesses to use systems such as E-verify to confirm the residency requirements of their employees.
Some have expressed a concern about boycotts and protests regarding the new law. The Mexican government, which has filed a brief as part of the lawsuit against the new law, has already moved its bi-national health week event from Atlanta to San Antonio.
This week a rally is planned at the State Capitol for high school-age illegal immigrants to bring attention to how hundreds of thousands of young people were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
And although the law hasn’t taken effect yet, some industries in Georgia are claiming to have already felt the impact of the law and are experiencing a shortage of workers.
The agricultural community is estimating millions of dollars in losses to various crops such as blueberries, cucumbers and watermelons due to the shortage of workers.
In response to this shortage, Gov. Nathan Deal has suggested using unemployed prison inmates on probation as a way to solve the problem. With obtaining a job a condition of probation and nearly a fourth of the 100,000 probationers’ statewide unemployed, the Corrections Commission is assisting in connecting probationers with employers. Thus far, the proposal has had mixed results.
So with the lawsuits, rallies, boycotts and worker shortages all stemming from the passage of HB87, is it still a good idea?
Lawsuits are expected in almost any contentious situation such as this, as are rallies and boycotts.
While the worker shortage in the agricultural community is not a totally unexpected result of the new law, one has to wonder how a state with an unemployment rate currently at 9.8 percent and that has exceeded the national average for 46 consecutive months could possibly be experiencing worker shortages.
The underlying problem is not HB 87 or the state of Georgia’s action but instead is the federal government’s inaction in addressing the problem. The longer a problem such as this continues the more difficult it becomes to correct — what we are experiencing now is a result of years of neglect. While it is painful and hopefully temporary, it is absolutely necessary.
When we hear of the millions of dollars being lost in crops not being harvested, we must keep in mind the billions of dollars in savings to our state of not having to provide health care and educational opportunities to undocumented workers who are not paying taxes.
I believe in our state and I believe in our workforce. These temporary problems will work themselves out.
In the meantime, let’s hope that Judge Thrash doesn’t try to legislate from the bench and instead agrees with the intentions of Georgia’s citizen legislature.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.