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Georgia Immigration on My Mind May 18, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Economics, immigration, Politics.
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For the superstitious among us, Friday the 13th has always been a dark day. But this past Friday the 13th was a particularly bad day for all Americans, but especially for Georgians. On Friday May 13th, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law H.B. 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. The law, which was modeled on similar legislation in Arizona and Utah, gives police the authority to verify the immigration status of suspected criminal offenders. This power will surely lead to widespread racial profiling. The law also requires many private employers, and all public employers, to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify, a highly burdensome regulation. Beyond that, the law is full of ambiguous language, making it likely law enforcement officers will abuse their newfound power with impunity. Just to ensure the law was sufficiently damaging, Georgia Republicans threw in some unfunded mandates with which county governments and state agencies must comply.

Perhaps one of the most outrageous provisions of the law is the creation of a new crime, “aggravated identity fraud,” for which one can be charged for using a fake ID in order to obtain employment. If found in violation one would be sentenced to state prison for up to 15 years and face up to a $250,000 fine. For comparison, the punishment in Georgia for having sex with a 16 year old is only five years jail time. With the stroke of a pen Georgia has become extremely hostile to undocumented workers, illegal immigrants, and, likely, Hispanic-looking people in general. This new law will cause serious economic and cultural damage to the state of Georgia. Moreover, it represents a growing hostility to immigrants in the United States. This growing trend in America is self-defeating and will hasten American decline.

The new law is almost certain to result in the moral injustice of racial profiling. This is not only wrong, but also contrary to American values, which is one of our country’s greatest strengths. Additionally, the law will significantly hamper the economic growth of several important industries in Georgia. Tourism will suffer greatly, as it has in Arizona where 40 conventions were canceled amid economic boycotts costing the state an estimated $141 million. In only its first seven months, Arizona’s immigration law cost the state a whopping 2,761 jobs and $9.4 million in tax revenue. Georgia’s leading industry is agriculture, which generates $65 billion annually toward the State’s economy and employs one out of every seven residents. Many of these workers are undocumented immigrants, without whom the agriculture industry would come to a grinding halt. This law will undoubtedly hurt Georgia’s economy at a time when it is struggling to revive itself.

The conventional wisdom is that undocumented workers are a huge drain on the state’s economic resources, paying no taxes and consuming vast amounts of government resources. In fact, the opposite is true. According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, in 2006 undocumented immigrants in Georgia contributed between $215.6 million and $252.5 million in aggregated sales, income, and property tax to state and local government coffers. In addition, research by the Immigration Policy Center indicates that Georgia would lose more than $21.3 billion in economic activity if all undocumented immigrants were removed from the state and that immigrant owned businesses had sales and receipts of more than $12.2 billion and employed more than 74000 people in 2002. These are their contributions to the state; what about their costs? Undocumented immigrants are banned from using almost all government-provided social programs with two notable exceptions: K-12 public education and emergency health care. While it’s hard to have sufficient data on the exact net effects, it’s clear the conventional wisdom is wrong: undocumented immigrants contribute greatly to economic activity and government revenue in positive ways.

Moreover, one of America’s unique strengths, especially compared to other developed countries, is its open borders. Perhaps the biggest problem facing Western European countries, Russia, and Japan is their aging and contracting populations. An older and smaller workforce is a recipe for economic stagnation. The US Census Bureau projects that the American population will grow 49% over the next four decades, a fact largely due to immigration. The US has always been a country of immigrants and it will continue to be one. Immigrants will help America remain the most dynamic and powerful economy in the world. This pluralism is essential, and it, coupled with America’s unique creativity in innovation, will counteract other forces of American decline.

America must strive to remain an attractive place to live and work, and a place where all are welcomed equally. However, by targeting immigrants and Hispanics Georgia’s new law does just the opposite. The law is unequal as written and will be even more unjust in application. America’s trend of unchecked hostility towards immigrants, as Georgia’s new law so clearly embodies, will severely weaken America’s economic strength. Moreover, the trend, if it continues, will undermine America’s claim to be a place of equality and opportunity for all people. America’s greatest strength is its ideals. Let’s not abandon them.

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