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Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 1:22pm

Immigration Panel Meets Again

Georgia’s new immigration panel met for the second time Thursday to set administrative rules. But the board charged with reviewing complaints about how public agencies enforce the state’s immigration law may have more questions than answers.

Members of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board discussed how they will judge complaints, record hearings and handle meeting transcripts.

But mainly the board talked about how it will pay for all of these things.

The panel, which will review complaints about whether state and local government are complying with the immigration law, has no staff or budget..

Atlanta attorney Ben Vinson, the body’s chairman, says that's an accident of scheduling.

“Part of that is the way the budget process works," he said after the meeting. "So the law went into effect on July 1 and the legislature wasn’t in session in July. So now the legislature is going to come back in session and they could look at the costs we’ve already incurred or they could predict what costs we might have in the next fiscal year and they could budget for that.”

He says he's confident the General Assembly will understand the costs associated with properly investigating the complaints.

Starting this month, the immigration law requires municipalities to certify they aren’t employing illegal immigrants or issuing contracts to companies that do. The Review Board was part of that bill.

Cities and counties are still figuring out how to comply with the law, says Todd Edwards, with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. He says that's partly because statutes such as the immigration law create new duties for cities and counties.

“We have to manage the cost of growing government to meet these mandates and also be fiscally responsible with limited taxpayer dollars and come under compliance and that’s exactly what we hope to do," he said after the meeting. "It’s that balance that has to be reached.”

The immigration statute is believed to be the only state law with a panel enforcing it.

Controversy has already touched the board in its short existence. It consists of seven middle-aged white men, a fact that has drawn criticism because the law will largely affect Hispanic and Asian immigrants.

The panel is part of a larger law that's caused controversy and is currently held up in the courts. A federal judge issued an injunction in June that put two of the law's main provisions on hold.

Vinson, the panel's chairman, says he has received several complaints since the law went into effect in July. The panel won't schedule any hearings, however, until it finalizes its administrative rules.