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Neely Young: Immigration Essentials

 

Nothing has caused more controversy this year than the anti-immigration bill passed by the Georgia legislature. It’s a difficult issue, and our state leadership passed the law to “send a message to Washington” that immigration needed to be fixed. The idea was to recognize that it is a federal issue, but emphasize that Georgia wants to take action on what is estimated to be 400,000 illegal immigrants in the state.

There is an emotional side of the issue involving race and politics. But if we leave that emotion on the shelf for a minute, I will admit that there are sober arguments put forth as reasons for the law. Illegal immigrants are a minority, it’s true; but they have broken federal, and now, state law. They are using state and local services and often receive medical care at the expense of taxpayers. They are using public schools without being citizens of our country.

Georgia’s anti-immigration law is trying to fix the problem in two ways. First there is a commission (The Immigration Enforcement Review Board) appointed to become judge and jury to punish citizens and institutions who “knowingly hire illegal immigrants.” Those who are found guilty will pay a $5,000 fine; even an accusation could mean public humiliation.

Another provision directs Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black to study the impact on Georgia’s agricultural community, which uses immigrant labor to pick Vidalia onions, pecans and blueberries and to process chicken and seafood. There are a lot of dollars at stake because agriculture makes up 50 percent of Georgia’s economy. Black is to recommend a “work permit” program to allow immigrants to sign up to work in Georgia for a specific time and at a specific place.

These two provisions contradict each other. The first part tells illegal immigrants, “We don’t want you. Please leave.” The second says: “Well, we admit we need you to pick our crops, so don’t leave; we will work it out so you can stay.”

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. Like all of us, they probably have dealt with illegal workers and admired them for being hard-working, honest people who are good fathers and mothers to their children. So the commissioners’ first action should be to fine themselves $5,000.

One member of this commission is a former newspaper editor, and his newspaper more than likely was delivered to his readers by an illegal immigrant. Your newspaper may be delivered illegally, even today. The newspaper delivery people for most newspapers are independent contractors, who present a green card and sign a contract. This legal citizen will then farm out most of the work to illegal family members. I was guilty of using this method when I ran my newspapers in the past.

The wonderful chicken that commission members enjoyed at their favorite hometown restaurants was safely processed and made available by an illegal immigrant. The person who cooked the meal was likely an illegal immigrant, as was the nice person who served the meal and got a good tip.

All of these commissioners live in nice homes. The carpet on their floors was probably manufactured by plants using illegal immigrant labor. The builders of their homes no doubt used illegal immigrant labor, via the same method as the newspapers used. The people who care for their lawn are illegal.

I believe the commission will have difficulty proving that someone or some agency is guilty. I am sure the anti-illegal activists will file thousands of complaints, so right from the get-go there will be a major backlog for the commission. Members are all doing this duty part time. How will they have time to take on such a major task?

The best answer will be the second part of the legislation, which sets up a program where illegals are issued a permit so they can safely work in Georgia without fear of being deported – and they will pay taxes. This will have to be done with federal approval. The state of Utah already has such a program and is working through the process of implementation. We could copy their law.

This kind of labor is essential but is not performed by the typical unemployed Georgia citizen. We need these workers for agriculture and for many other types of industries and services. They make our economy succeed. Placing the emotional issue aside, our state leaders need to provide for this essential labor.

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