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Saturday, March 12, 2011 - 3:05pm

Dems Hear Sympathetic Voices On Bills

Updated: 3 years ago.
Demonstrators opposed to new Georgia immigration laws show some of their signs. They met on Wright Square in Savannah ahead of a hearing of Democratic state lawmakers. (photo Orlando Montoya)

Democratic state lawmakers heard almost exclusively from speakers opposed to new state immigration laws as they brought their special committee to Savannah this weekend.

The panel is a Democratic version of an all-Republican one that met last year.

Republicans held hearings to study how immigration effects Georgia.

Their conclusion was that the state's economy needs tighter controls on those illegally here.

Democrats now are holding hearings.

At the one in Savannah, 23 speakers rose and one spoke in favor of GOP plans.

Democratic State Senator Curt Thompson of Tucker chairs the committee and said, it wasn't his goal to collect his own set of facts or hear only one side.

"Sometimes people start with a conclusion and work backward," Thompson said. "We decided not to have a conclusion and work forward."

Speakers blasted proposals to allow local police to check immigration status and make it a felony to present fake ID's for work.

Those bills are still in the legislature.

Andrea Hinojosa of Lyons told sympathetic Democrats that the GOP-sponsored legislation would hurt the state's farm economy.

"I think that it's a scapegoat myth. 'They are here to take our jobs,'" Hinojosa said. "I think it's just something that people throw out."

The lone speaker who spoke for tighter immigration controls said that African-Americans are disproportionately harmed by illegal immigrants who take low-paying jobs in agriculture, construction and hospitality.

"Young black males have lost the most jobs of anybody," said George Grady of Savannah. "We have a set of laws and we need to start enforcing the laws."

He was quickly rebuffed by a Georgia Southern University student who noted that Georgia's educational system disproportionately "leaves behind" African-Americans.

"Undocumented immigrants are competing with native workers who don't have a high school diploma," said Ric Stewart. "The best way to remedy that is not to get rid of immigrant labor but to promote educational opportunities for everyone."

The Democrats' Special Committee on Immigration and Georgia's Economy previously met in Macon and Gainesville.

It will conclude its work in Gwinnett County on March 31st.

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