Like many people from Northern Virginia, I’ve often resisted the label of being called a Southerner. Yes, Virginia did secede with the Confederacy during the Civil War. And yes, many of our roadways are named after Confederate generals and military folk. But, being from Northern Virginia, the idea of Southern hospitality and gentle mien is as foreign to us as discretion is for the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner.
I was in Atlanta, GA, during Independence Day weekend for a wedding, and was given a full dose of Southern comforts and colloquialisms. Between welcome bags containing loaves of homemade banana bread and a bridal luncheon at a quaint little place called the Swan Coach House, I was quite overwhelmed by the charms of these Southern ladies.
But while I was maneuvering between various delightful events and venues, civil rights groups were grappling with quite a different sort of Southern hospitality that weekend.
Georgia General Assembly’s proposed House Bill 87, called HB87, aims to be enacted as the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.” On Friday, parts of the new law aimed at cracking down on the state’s problems with illegal immigration took effect. These measures include:
- Making it a felony to use fake identification to get employment; violators could face up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
- Officials who violate state laws requiring local and state government agencies to use the federal E-Verify work authorization program could be removed from office and face fines up to $10,000.
- Creation of a seven-member Immigration Enforcement Review Board to investigate complaints about government officials violating state laws related to immigration.
Taking effect on January 1 are provisions to require state and local government agencies to check for federally issued identification on people who apply for public benefits, such as food stamps and business licenses. Gradually phased in will be measures requiring Georgia businesses of various sizes to use E-Verify on their new hires. Businesses with 500 or more employees must start complying on January 1, while businesses employing between 100 and 500 persons won’t start until July 1 of next year.
Well, how precious is that? Oh, that famous Southern hospitality, making everyone feel welcome!
Key parts of the law were temporarily blocked until a legal challenge is resolved, including provisions to authorize police to check the immigration status of suspects without proper identification and to detain illegal immigrants. Also blocked was a measure to penalize people who knowingly transport or harbor undocumented persons while committing another crime. Similar provisions in Arizona, Utah and Indiana also have been blocked by the courts.
But let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter how many provisions are legally challenged or blocked by a judge. Georgia’s HB 87 reflects a national trend of states taking their own initiative to deal with immigration reform. It’s a bit disheartening to see states try, again and again and again, to give law enforcement officials the prerogative to check immigration statuses of suspects when the precedence makes it quite clear that it is not constitutional.
Immigration reform is sorely needed, yes. But that should be a matter left up to the federal government, not done in ragged piecemeal by state, and especially not with language that allows police to make legal immigrants or citizens of a racial minority feel unwelcome or threatened. Many of us look in the mirror and feel ‘other’ enough; there is absolutely no place in our great nation to make that into a law.
[photo credit: AP]