Georgia Illegal-Immigrant Bill Advances

Georgia lawmakers are working out differences on a measure to address illegal immigration. The bill would prohibit tax-funded benefits for illegal immigrants and penalize employers who hire illegal workers. Jim Tharpe of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tells Melissa Block about the bill.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The protests in Georgia that we mentioned earlier came after that state's House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Security and Immigration Compliance Act. Here's Republican Dan Lackly who supported the bill.

State Rep. DAN LACKLY (Republican, Georgia): The people of this country do not want to be overrun and overtaken by illegal immigrants.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

But there were divisions along political and racial lines over the wisdom of the unilateral state measure. Here is Democrat Alicia Thomas Morgan.

State Rep. ALICIA THOMAS MORGAN (Democrat, Georgia): Why don't these people just become citizens? Why don't they just come here legally? Because our immigration system is broken. And it must be fixed. Not in the State of Georgia but on the federal level.

BLOCK: Well today the Hispanic community reacted across Georgia. A coalition of state Hispanic leaders called on immigrants to refrain from purchases and to stay at home from work, if possible. Reporter Jim Tharpe of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told us about the action today.

Mr. JIM THARPE (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution): The Hispanic community is not really calling it a boycott, they're calling it a day of dignity. And the idea is for them to flex their financial muscle and show how important they are to the economy and Georgia.

BLOCK: Any sense of how effective that was?

Mr. THARPE: Not at this point. Some people were actually threatened with firing if they didn't show up. And the organizers had made it very clear that they didn't want people to stay out of work if they might be fired. But if they could afford to, and do it without being fired, they wanted them to consider it.

Some of the landscaping businesses we're talking about, their crews weren't coming in. Other crews were saying they were there, so it's hard to tell at this point.

BLOCK: Well this is all heating up after the House there in Georgia passed an anti-illegal immigration bill yesterday. Tell us a bit about that bill and what it would do.

Mr. THARPE: The bill is basically aimed at illegal immigrants and the people who employ them. It would do everything from keeping private employers from claiming their salaries as a tax deduction to requiring a federal verification program be used for people with public contracts. There's also a couple of law enforcement components. So one that would crack down on human trafficking, the other that would require the verification of legal status of any person jailed for a felony or for DUI.

BLOCK: What happens with this legislation now?

Mr. THARPE: The legislation most likely heads to a conference committee where the House and Senate will try to work out their differences, and then goes to the governor for his signature.

BLOCK: Is immigration and this legislation going to be a big issue in the elections that are coming up in Georgia around the state this fall?

Mr. THARPE: In my opinion it will be an issue. Polls have shown that 82 percent of Georgians wanted the legislature to do something about this. They can now carry back their votes on this and say we did something about it. Here's what we did. Here's Senate Bill 529. Here are the points and here's what it will do.

BLOCK: I was reading about what one member of the Georgia Senate had to say. This is the only Hispanic member in the Senate, Sam Zamarripa, and he says that this has brought an unprecedented level of fear that parents are keeping their kids out of school because they think they're going to be deported. How much fear is there out there?

Mr. THARPE: According to Senator Zamarripa, there's a lot. He actually called a press conference yesterday with a Hispanic House member Pedro Morin urging calm in the Hispanic community. And also urging people not to participate in the boycott today. He said there is a lot based on stories that are being generated by the Hispanic media in the metro Atlanta area, which is quite aggressive. Stories that say that people will be kept out of school, or if the children of illegals show up at the public schools that they will be deported. People that shop at Wal-Mart will be deported. And a lot of it started by rumors and allegations off talk, talk radio.

BLOCK: Well Jim thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. THARPE: Thank you.

BLOCK: Jim Tharpe is a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers the State House and illegal immigration.

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