States GOP Immigration Bills. Follow the Money.

Tybee Island Pier at Sunset

Georgia’s state House passed a bill with emphasis on the federal E-Verify system by a sizable vote and is on its way to the state’s Senate for review. Much of my family is from North Carolina that has beautiful beaches but nothing like Georgia. My husband hails from Georgia and while we may “stop by” in North Carolina, I spend much of my summer at one of Georgia’s jewels in the sun. The beaches and the ocean are well worth braving the stifling heat that makes humidity a welcome relief.

Close to the border, immigration is an issue. I know a few small to mid-size business owners who face mounting problems with the influx of unauthorized immigrant workers that are hired for less by larger companies, often undercutting smaller businesses’ profit margins.

When I travel to Georgia with the masses (my grandchildren), we take our time and drive, stopping at relatives along the way and maybe even pick up a few. There’s one town that I pass through each year that’s been hit hard; it’s almost like a ghost town.

Piggly Wiggly

Over the past five years, both supermarket chains, the Piggly Wiggly and the Food Lion, closed their doors, as well as the two car dealerships. Hourly workers don’t dare take an unscheduled day off; not even to attend a funeral or a doctor’s appointment. Those things are taken care of on scheduled days off – even the funeral. The reason is that there is someone (often an unauthorized immigrant worker) at the ready to take your place at half the price. Now that the economy is turning around in larger cities, hopefully, a positive impact will reach our small, rural towns in time for residents to realize positive change.

Georgia state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R) sponsored an immigration bill that recently passed the state House and addresses unauthorized immigrant workers. According to Ramsey, “the most important part of the bill is the requirement that Georgia employers use the federal E-Verify system to make sure that new hires are eligible to work in the United States.”

“The bill creates the offense of “aggravated identify fraud,” defined as when someone “willfully and fraudulently uses any counterfeit or fictitious identifying information concerning a real, fictitious or deceased person with intent to use such counterfeit or fictitious identifying information for the purpose of obtaining employment.” Such action would be a felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.” [….]

The bill also has “two provisions that are similar to the controversial law passed in Arizona that penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrations, and allow law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects.” [….] The bill is on its way to Georgia’s heavily Republican senate where its expected to pass.

The bill appears to be weak on punishment of employers of unauthorized immigrant workers. It requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring “new” workers. It also requires employers seeking a license to do business to sign an affidavit that they will use the E-Verify system when hiring “new” workers. It also allows the state to be sued if an employer who has signed the affidavit violates same. In my opinion, that’s insufficient.

Clearly, the weight of the punishment is on unauthorized immigrant workers; especially with the new Georgia statute added of “aggravated identify fraud” wherein unauthorized immigrant workers face up to 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. First of all, everyone knows that unauthorized immigrant workers don’t have any money or resources to pay any fine; that’s why they’re willing to work for $0.50 cents on the dollar. The purpose of this fine can’t possibly be to collect money, but the fine will keep them in jail once they get there – they can’t afford to get out. Of greater interest is the hefty prison sentence.

Georgia is home to the nation’s largest and busiest deportation jail in the country that is privately run:

“On average, the privately run Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia held 1,614 detainees per day during the fiscal year ending in September. That is the most of any of the 252 jails where the federal government houses suspected illegal [unauthorized] immigrants, according to figures supplied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. … The South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas, ranked second with an average daily count of 1,527 detainees, followed by the Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Eloy, Ariz., with 1,487. “[….]

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) budget for the last fiscal year was $1.77 billion to detain about 33,442 people in jails nationwide, and paid for by taxpayers. Many of the people are held for lesser/minor immigration and traffic charges. It should be noted that “ICE can release people on bond or even ankle bracelets to prevent fleeing, at a lower rate.”

“Corrections Corp. of America [CCA] is a $1.6 billion business based in Nashville, which owns and operates the Stewart jail, and their business is booming. Federal taxpayers pay Stewart County $60.50 per inmate held at that jail per day through an agreement with ICE. That works out to $97,647 per day, based on the last fiscal year’s average daily inmate count. Lumpkin county, however, keeps only $0.85 cents per inmate per day for its administrative costs and pays CCA the rest, or $59.65 per inmate per day. Since 2007, the county has collected about $1.7 million through this arrangement, county officials said. That represents more than half of the county’s $3 million annual operating budget.”[….]

Any county getting a little over half of their operating costs from detaining unauthorized immigrants has no incentive to change things. The possibility of losing $1.7 million a year from one’s budget is a big incentive to keep things the way they are. In my opinion, that makes unauthorized immigrants a commodity ripe for a new kind of prison farm.

Clearly, someone is realizing a hefty pay-day. So, if I’m a small business owner living in a state that is fiscally conservative where the wealthy have low taxes and mine are high: not only are my taxes high, banks are stingy and if they do give me a loan, the interest fees will be passed on to my great-great-grandchildren. I’m faced with larger companies undercutting my profits by paying less to produce the same work, while I pay the federal government taxes to keep unauthorized immigrant workers in the US, allowing the larger companies – who have low personal taxes and enjoy the banks’ favor – to keep on undercutting me. Convoluted, ya think!

Maybe Georgians should borrow some language from an immigration bill proposed by Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle (R). While it pales in comparison to the punishment Georgians propose to apply to unauthorized immigrants, it at least includes jail time and a fine for employers who violate the law. Riddle’s bill says anyone who “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” hires an unauthorized immigrant … could face up to two years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.”

There’s one exception to Rep. Riddle’s bill that’s drawing national attention, “Those who hire unauthorized immigrants would be in violation of the law – unless they are hiring a maid, a lawn caretaker or another houseworker.” Now that’s telling folks don’t y’all come down here and mess with the hired help of any origin. What times we live in.

——————– * * * * * * * ——————–

Illegal immigration bill passes House | Times.Hereald
Georgia deportation jail largest in nation | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Texas immigration bill has a big exception | CNN
Georgia Detention Center Largest in the Country | Georgia Immigration

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  2. Brian

    If this is the same E-Verify system that I think it is, it’s the one that I’ve been subject to since 2008 (or 2009?) – with similar penalties (for the employer as well), if I recall correctly. Everyone that I know who is a federal contractor or subcontractor (and that’s most of the engineers here around Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio) are required to have their employment status verified with the E-Verify system.

    I would guess that that amounts to half the jobs in the City that I live in — since we’re so tightly coupled with the base. It never crossed my mind that there was something underhanded in its implementation — it seemed no more burdensome or intrusive than the typical background investigation that I (and most of my friends) have gone through for decades to hold federal contractor-related positions. Again — my naivety for never considering there might be a financial incentive for localities to use this tool. Just always seemed the right thing to do — to verify employment status and eligibility.

    • Hey Brian, Not quite sure how that follows with the $1.7 million that Stewart County Georgia gets for housing unauthorized immigrant workers. E-Verify has been around for a long time in my state too. Everyone is subject to it including me when I worked. Nevertheless, plenty of unauthorized immigrant workers here as well.

      But E-Verify is not my focus, which I think you realize. but I’ll be kind and just say that I’m curious as to how you drew a line between a private prison company, CCA, with a government contract through ICE for housing unauthorized immigrants that is a lucrative business proposition; one that ignoring E-Verify is worth it. It’s one thing to have the law in place, enforcement of same is quite another venture. Many states use E-Verify but we still have 33,442 illegal immigrants in this country. Why? The money is too good to pass up. Has nothing to do with E-Verify.


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