Neely Young: HB 87 Targets Business

Summertime for the Georgia legislature is a time of hard work, when lawmakers meet with constituents and lobbyists to determine what new laws and changes to old laws they plan to introduce in the January 2013 session.

Let us hope they plan to change House Bill 87. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforce-ment Act of 2011 needs to be changed. It is burdensome, punitive and confusing and will keep companies from moving to Georgia. It targets the presidents and owners of businesses in Georgia and can make them criminals, subject to prison time and fines.

The Illegal Immigration Law, Section 5, indicates that prior to the issuance of a business license, private companies with more than 10 employees must sign an affidavit saying they are using the federal employment eligibility verification system, or E-Verify, to determine if new hires are illegal. 

The law specifies a fine of $1,000 and one to five years in prison for a business owner who knowingly provides a false affidavit. Companies have until July 2013 to complete the E-Verifica-tion process.

E-Verify is a voluntary federal program; under federal law, failure to use it carries no punishment. But that’s not the case in Georgia. Under HB 87, Georgia employers are required to collect documents from each of their new hires and prove the new employees are here legally. 

If employers do have illegal employees and don’t take action to correct the situation, either by firing them or forcing them to resign, the presidents or chief executives of the firms could be committing criminal acts.

If you think this doesn’t scare off companies considering a move to Georgia, you are wrong.

Here is one recent example of how our state lost a major business due to HB 87. The company had more than 500 employees and was planning to move its headquarters here. Company officers were filling out the final documents when the president was asked: “Do you employ any illegals?”

He answered truthfully: “I don’t know.” 

Then he was told if he did hire any illegal workers, under state law, he could be considered a criminal in Georgia and subject to jail time. So the company started the long process of collecting driver’s licenses or passports from their em-ployees so they could use E-Verify.

They were surprised to learn they had an illegal employee on their senior staff. He had been employed for several years using a green card, but it had not been renewed since 2009. His renewal was mired in the complex immigration system. 

It’s worth remembering that many people in similar situations didn’t sneak across the desert in Arizona to enter the U.S., but came by legal means, and like this man, have problems renewing their status.

They have their own legal rights and protection. The president of this particular company learned that, under federal law, he could not fire this employee. Georgia’s Illegal Immigration Reform Act is a Catch-22 and at cross purposes with federal requirements.

True, this company would not get in trouble, using the E-Verify system, for simply having an illegal worker on the payroll. But if the courts uphold the portion of HB 87 that regulates transport, the president could be arrested for sending the worker on a business trip or even giving him a ride home from work.

The company ultimately went to another state – discouraged, no doubt, by the harsh and confusing law that creates hardship for employees and employers alike.

I wonder what this person, as president of his company, thought of a state whose legislature would pass such a restrictive and ridiculous law. He probably wanted to take a shower.

Newt Gingrich had it right when on the campaign trail this year he said: “I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter of a century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them.” His popularity with the voters reached its highest peak after he made that statement. 

Most people agree. The Georgia legislature should change this law so that it does not punish those of us who are legal and run businesses here. No matter what the Supreme Court rules, the whole law should be scrapped. It is a shameful piece of legislation that does great damage to our state.

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