Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed Georgia's tough new immigration legislation into law yesterday:
Georgia's governor signed a sweeping immigration bill Monday that supporters and critics say gives the state some of the toughest measures against illegal immigrants in the nation.
"I want to make this clear: we are not, Georgia's government is not, and this bill is not, anti-immigrant," Gov. Sunny Perdue said at the signing.
"We simply believe that everyone who lives in our state needs to abide by our laws."
The law requires verification that adults seeking many state-administered benefits are in the country legally. It sanctions employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and mandates that companies with state contracts check the immigration status of employees.
The law also requires police to check the immigration status of people they arrest.
The measure is believed to be the first comprehensive immigration package to make it through a statehouse this session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
On the plus side, education and medical care is still available for children regardless of their status, and there are some other health care exemptions according to the article.
It's puzzling, though, why a state would want to take on federal law enforcement duties related to investigating the immigration status of suspects arrested in their state. This appears to be a trend, though, and I believe there is federal DHS money available for training state police on immigration enforcement. There was a proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly for this, but it was defeated.
There is also another provision that curiously eliminates tax deductions for wages of $600 or more paid to undocumented workers. So, it's OK to hire undocumented workers as long as you pay them less than $600? At least the law otherwise cracks down on employers who exploit cheap immigrant labor.
On the one hand, it's hard to argue with supporters of legislation like this who say that if someone is here illegally the state and its taxpayers have no legal obligation to "take care of them." On the other hand, our "look the other way so employers can bring in cheap labor" immigration policy has resulted in millions of undocumented (illegal) workers being here. Most of them work for poverty wages or less. Now that they're here being exploited, we're going to also deny them basic human services such as health care?
The tough-on-immigration folks also say these people just need to "get legal" and follow the rules like natural-born citizens and others who came here legally and went through the naturalization process.
It's not that simple.
I have vague knowledge of the H-1B skilled technical worker visa program from a previous corporate life. So, I thought I'd look that up and see what other kinds of visas are provided for, and what it takes to get one, and what it takes to become a "legal permanent resident" or a naturalized citizen.
Basically, it looks to me like there is currently no way for temporary worker from Mexico to legally enter this country. First of all, a citizen of Mexico cannot apply for a temporary worker visa. Such visas must be applied for by an employer using DHS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Form I-129. From wading through the 32 pages of that form and its instructions, it appears that the only legal visa classification for, say, a temporary agricultural worker is H-2A (for temporary non-agricultural workers such as retail or restaurant workers it's H-2B).
The employer fills out the application describing what work is to be done and where, how long the temporary workers are needed, and why (seasonal work, meeting temporary/transient work-loads, etc.). The employer is not required to name who they want to bring in. Instead, they can specify the number of "unnamed aliens" they need.
Then the employer checks with the latest State Department Visa Bulletin to see how many visa numbers are available for that visa class from the various countries covered.
And guess what? The May 2006 Visa Bulletin says that classification H-2A from Mexico is "Closed", meaning there are no visas currently available for temporary workers from Mexico.
(And assuming I am reading all this correctly, if you are a legal permanent resident or a naturalized citizen from Mexico seeking to bring your son or daughter here on a family visa, the DHS USCIS is currently working on applications they received prior to Jan. 1991. So it appears you will have to wait for a while. For spouses, they are all the way up to Jan. 1999, so the wait would only be about eight years to legally bring your wife here.)
So, it doesn't appear that it's that simple, or even currently possible, for the 12 million or so undocumented workers already here to "get legal."
I am not an immigration lawyer or any other kind of lawyer, so I could be completely wrong. If there is an immigration lawyer out there reading this, please let us know, and feel free to help interpret the laws as they stand today.
The one thing that is certain, however, is that our immigration laws are too complicated and that dealing fairly with the undocumented immigrants already here is a huge, even more complicated problem.