Opinion - Veto Georgia’s immigration bill

Don’t send Georgia down Arizona’s same path

On April 14, state lawmakers ignored the concerns of business groups and civil rights advocates and passed House Bill 87, an immigration reform package based on Arizona’s controversial law. It’s now time for Gov. Nathan Deal — despite comments he’s made indicating he’ll sign the bill into law — to spike the measure.

Should one look for reasons not to sign the bill, look no further than Arizona. Since that state’s law took effect last year, as much as $140 million in tourism and convention business has gone elsewhere. The Mexican government issued a travel advisory warning its citizens that the border state was a “negative political environment for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.” What’s more, a judge has blocked enforcement of the law, pitting Arizona’s attorneys in a legal fight that’s sure to drag all the way to the Supreme Court.

If signed, HB 87 could make Georgia appear so hostile to undocumented immigrants that they’ll move elsewhere, taking away the cheap labor on which some of Georgia’s biggest industries have depended — and exploited. Not to mention the $400 million that undocumented immigrants are estimated to pay in local and state taxes. Lawsuits are ready to be filed if the bill is enacted. And rest assured that the wheels are in motion for a boycott of Georgia’s $35 billion tourism industry similar to the one that has cold-cocked Arizona. And despite the fact that intown lawmakers opposed the measure, a boycott would surely wallop the tourism and convention hot spot of Atlanta.

But it’s the damage that’s harder to undo — the injury to Georgia’s national reputation — that should merit the most concern. People will learn of the new law via word of mouth and TV sound bites. Lost in the discussion will be the provisions added during the eleventh hour to reduce the likelihood of racial profiling by police. The bill still contains vague and mean-spirited prohibitions against aiding immigrants. Despite being a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, the Peach State is still considered a backwoods in the nation’s eyes. Becoming one of the first states to follow Arizona’s example would only cement that image.

State Rep. Matt Ramsey — who, moments after his bill passed, told CL the threat of boycotts was “overheated political rhetoric” — now has the feather in his cap he sought for a future statewide or congressional campaign. The Peachtree City Republican doesn’t have to balance budgets or convince global corporations to relocate in the state. But Gov. Deal does.

You can support illegal immigration reform — it’s a problem the federal government has allowed to fester for far too long — and still be against this specific bill. While the governor pores over the legislation’s provisions, he should also ponder its ramifications. And he should tell lawmakers and the public that he, as a fiscal conservative who cares about the well-being of Georgia’s economy today and into the future, must veto HB 87.