Is Georgia the New Arizona?
Since last year, Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 -- the state's restrictive immigration law -- has been a key lightning rod for the nation's immigration debate.
Arizona is still roiling with controversy -- this week, activists are calling for a boycott of Major League Baseball's annual All-Star game -- but over the last week, another front has heated up: Georgia.
On July 2, an estimated 8,000 to 14,000 people converged on Atlanta in opposition to HB 87, a similarly restricted bill passed in April. It wasn't the first large and diverse rally against the legislation, but came just after portions of the law went into effect last week.
While many advocates warn the bill will spread fear throughout Georgia's burgeoning immigrant communities, organizers said the rally revealed a spirit of defiant resistance. As Adelina Nicholls of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights said of the marchers:
They are ready to fight. We need immigration reform, and no HB87 is going to stop us. We have earned the right to be here.
The rally came on the heels of a federal judge's decision to block two of its most contentious provisions a week ago: One, a requirement that law enforcement check the immigration status of any suspect who cannot produce ID, and second, a rule making it illegal to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant, even unknowingly.
In his ruling, U.S. district judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. said:
State and local law enforcement officers and officials have no authorization to arrest, detain or prosecute anyone based upon sections 7 and 8 of HB 87 while this injunction remains in effect.
But the rally and court action hasn't stopped many immigrant from fleeing in wake of the bill -- unleashing a major economic calamity in the state. In June 2011, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black released the results of a survey of 230 Georgia farmers, who said they'll be short 11,000 workers this summer because of immigrants who have left after the bill's passage.
The massive work shortage in Georgia agriculture is causing the state to face the conflicting forces at work in the immigration debate: on one hand, a political establishment seeking to earn political points from a "get tough" immigration stand, and on the other, the state's deep economic reliance on immigrant labor.
As Jay Bookman argues in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Passage of HB 87 has ended that sweet little arrangement [between agriculture and undocumented workers]. If the state's agriculture industry wants continued access to that workforce, they need to become vocal advocates for some means of legalizing and protecting it. They need to publicly acknowledge that a population vilified by many as a drain on the state's economy is in fact a necessity in much of rural Georgia, and they need to start electing public officials who are willing to make that argument in Washington and here in Atlanta. If they have workers they want to keep, they need to fight for them.