Amnesty is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.”
Last month, the U.S. Senate began debate on an immigration bill that some say would grant amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens in our country. The compromise legislation was proposed by a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, headed by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the White House.
Georgia’s two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson reportedly sat in on some of the sessions and have taken much criticism for their initial support of the bill. The criticism came to a head during the recent state Republican convention when Sen. Chambliss was greeted by boos and hisses during his speech to the delegates. Although not as noticeable, Sen. Isakson received a similar reception.
At the heart of the criticism of the legislation is the “Z-visa” provision that would let illegal immigrants register to stay and work in the United States. Those receiving this exemption could apply for permanent legal residency and eventual citizenship after at least eight years. A temporary worker program for 400,000 foreign laborers would also be created by the bill.
Supporters of the bill point out that none of the provisions would take place until tighter security measures are in place including the hiring of 14,000 more border patrol officers. They also point out that it would end the so-called “chain migration” where extended family members are brought to the United States to live with legal immigrants.
Although illegal immigration has correctly been viewed as a federal problem, the state of Georgia has been very pro-active in dealing with the situation.
During this past legislative session alone, over 20 bills were introduced dealing with immigration. While some bills may not have dealt specifically with illegal immigration, their intent was clear. For instance HB 21 proposed prohibiting state government from printing official documents in any language other than English. Currently, some documents are printed in Spanish. Another example is SB 50 which would require notaries public in the state to be legal residents of the U.S.
Other legislation proposed during this past session was more to the point. For instance, HR 127 urged the U.S. Congress to halt birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants and HR 413 proposed amending the state constitution to declare English as the official language.
Although none of these bills passed, one bill that did pass the House and Senate ended up being vetoed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. SB 15 would have increased the penalty for driving without a license and was clearly aimed at putting illegal immigrants who drive without a driver’s license in jail.
In wielding his veto power over the bill, Gov. Perdue identified the unintended consequence of subjecting people with valid out-of-state driver’s licenses to stout criminal penalties. This angered many supporters of the bill who pointed out that the first three offenses were misdemeanors while the fourth violation within a 5-year period was a felony punishable by up to 1-5 years in jail.
When and if comprehensive immigration reform is passed on a federal level, the impact on the states will be considerable. Currently, many states, including Georgia, are struggling with indigent health care costs and with the costs associated with providing public education for children of illegal immigrants. Unless provisions are made in the legislation to address these concerns, states will continue to struggle to cover these mandated costs.
Other legitimate concerns exist as well. For instance, starting July 1 of this year, all students who are in the country illegally must pay out-of-state tuition to Georgia’s state colleges and universities. The change in this rule was to assure universities weren’t giving illegal immigrants benefits prohibited under federal law. If comprehensive reform is passed on the federal level, Georgia will have to change its policy again resulting in more lost revenue as well as increased university enrollment.
Whether one believes that our economy would be threatened by the loss of illegal immigrant labor or that they should be sent back home like other lawbreakers, this issue remains the most pressing social problem facing our nation today.
And while our Congressional leaders are to be applauded for finally addressing the problem, two questions remain to be answered concerning illegal immigrants — can we live with them and can we live without them?