The U.S. Supreme Court will rule this month on Arizona’s immigration law. The decision will have an immediate impact on a similar Georgia law, which a federal court has blocked. But Georgia’s immigration dilemma will continue regardless of the court’s decision.
The Supreme Court will rule on whether Arizona’s law oversteps federal law dealing with illegal immigrants.
That decision will trigger a ruling on Georgia’s law, known as HB 87. A federal judge has blocked parts of it, pending the high court’s ruling.
Attorneys for the Georgia plaintiffs believe the Supreme Court will find the Arizona law constitutional. That means Georgia’s law would soon go into full effect.
But the litigation wouldn’t end there. Charles Kuck is one of the attorneys who sued the state before the law took effect.
“What we would do is, we would go back and gather additional plaintiffs on actual damages by HB 87 being enforced and then file a subsequent piece of litigation in federal court,” Kuck said in an interview.
If the law is upheld, the high court’s ruling wouldn’t immediately rid Georgia of illegal immigrants. There are about 400,000 undocumented residents of various nationalities in Georgia and about 11 million nationwide, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
This week, leading voices on the issue gathered in Atlanta for The National Immigration Forum’s first-ever Southeast summit.
One of the speakers, Alberto Gonzalez, served as the U.S. Attorney General under Republican President George W. Bush. He said mass deportation isn’t an option.
“Our government is incapable of forcibly removing millions of people,” he told the crowd of elected officials, law enforcement officers and others. “We talked about this in the Bush White House and we concluded it can’t be done.”
And he said an exodus of immigrants would create other problems.
“It would cripple our economy,” he said. “It would devastate certain service industries, and farming and construction.”
Georgia farmers have long relied on migrant laborers – some legal, some illegal -- to harvest crops. The workers painstakingly hand-pick fruits and vegetables sold at grocery stores and farmers markets.
Julie Hotchkiss is a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Speaking at the immigration conference, she said eliminating undocumented workers doesn’t open up jobs for legal residents.
She also said illegal labor helps Georgia companies thrive. That’s partly because they can pay them less.
“The implication of employers being able to pay undocumented workers less, is that the firm experiences what we call “rent” or extra profit from employing undocumented workers,” she said. “So basically any attempt to legitimize or eliminate undocumented workers means lower profits.”
Undocumented workers, arguably, have become entrenched in their communities, and accepted by younger generations.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s commission on ethics. He says there are about 1 million Hispanic Southern Baptists, of which about 40 percent are undocumented.
Speaking at the immigration conference, he said the Southern Baptist Convention supports a new immigration policy that includes a path to citizenship for illegal residents.
And he says that reflects the thinking of the evangelical group’s younger members.
“The younger they are, the more receptive they are to it,” he said as part of a panel discussion on faith. “And one of the reasons is that most of them, if they are under 25, they’ve gone to school with the children of undocumented workers.”
The Supreme Court will rule on Arizona’s law before the end of June.