Georgia’s newly passed legislative crackdown on immigration law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, is causing quite a stir in the news. Some news outlets are claiming that because of this newly passed law fields of precious Georgia fruits and vegetables are rotting away in fields and taxi drivers are now forced to check the citizenship status of every passenger in their vehicles. Too bad these claims are misleading, if not utterly erroneous.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 (henceforth HB 87) is a law that, among other things, requires that many Georgia employers use E-Verify to check a new hire’s citizenship status. The law also has a provision that allows police officers to check a suspect’s immigration status during a stop so long as they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the stopped suspect is an illegal alien. For all intents and purposes, the law is remarkably similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, another hotly debated immigration law (which I also wrote about).
HB 87 has drawn the ire of a number of groups and writers, who have claimed the law is everything from racist to school-destroying. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution claims that a loss of (illegally immigrated) students could harm school funding because there will be fewer students to pad enrollment numbers for federal grants, conveniently ignoring the drain on resources these students comprise in the first place. The ACLU claims HB 87 is racist, ostensibly because they believe the reasonable suspicion stop proviso enables de facto racism on the part of police (which may be true, as police apparently are intentionally targeting Latino populations). Some groups are decidedly less political in their complaints: the Georgia Green Party has even gone so far as to call HB 87 the “new Aryan Paragraph writ for 21st Century Georgia.”
While there are a lot of issues buried within the depths of the text of HB 87, two recent disputes rise up that I feel demand quick analysis: a dispute by taxi drivers over the law regarding a knowing transportation section of the law, and a rather overblown dispute over agricultural hiring practices which (more liberal) news organizations are claiming could result in millions of dollars of wasted produce.
I: The Taxi Case
Georgia taxi drivers have filed suit against HB 87, arguing that a provision that makes knowing transportation of illegal immigrants a misdemeanor would “burden them with the responsibility of checking the immigration status of each and every one of their passengers.” This claim is almost assuredly false.
HB 87′s illegal-transportation provision states, in part, that:
[a] person who, (1) while committing another criminal offense, (2) knowingly and intentionally transports or moves an illegal alien in a motor vehicle for the purpose of furthering the illegal presence of the alien in the United States shall be guilty of the offense of transporting or moving an illegal alien. (emphasis and numbers added)
In essence, in order for a taxi driver to be convicted of this crime, the taxi driver must (1) be committing another criminal offense AND (2) knowingly and intentionally transport or move an illegal alien. Even without provision (1), the mens rea requirement of provision (2) protects taxi drivers, who would likely only know the citizenship of their passengers under extraordinary circumstances. Georgia taxi drivers need not even worry about some overzealous interpretation of the law tied to the concept of “willful blindness” — given that there are many non-English-speaking South American immigrants in Georgia, to presume a taxi driver has some form of constructive knowledge about his passenger based upon their ethnicity is ridiculous and racist. Perhaps worst yet, one wonders what crimes taxi drivers wish to be up to with immigrants in tow.
While there are many arguments to be made against HB 87 that deserve their day in court, this taxi case is not one of them. This is the kind of litigation summary judgments were made for.
II: The Agricultural Dispute
Georgia’s agricultural industry is also fighting HB 87 tooth-and-nail.
Not terribly surprisingly, Georgia’s agricultural industry hires and houses a lot of illegal aliens, and farmers aren’t terribly pleased that their illegal, sub-minimum-wage workers aren’t available:
Farmers say the Hispanic migrant workers they depend on to pick their fruits and vegetables are bypassing Georgia to work in other states. The workers are concerned they will be harassed or jailed here following the passage of HB 87, the farmers said.
In short, farmers are losing illegal immigrant labor, and they can’t afford to (or simply don’t want to) hire American citizens for minimum wage. As a result of this refusal, Georgia farmers are losing crops, and they are blaming HB 87.
A close examination of this alleged issue raises more questions about the farmers’ business practices than it does about HB 87. Considering HB 87 was passed in April and does not apply until July, why did farmers not prepare for this before they were forced to forgo picking crops? Are farmers actually implying that they should be given carte blanche to hire illegal aliens (in violation of federal law, no less) on the basis of sheer economic necessity? Is there any proof that police would harass or jail farm workers without some proof that they were illegal aliens? What are farmers currently paying these aliens and, more importantly, why can they not find American workers when the employment rate in Georgia is 9.8%?
I’ll confess, there is a plausible, albeit weak, argument to be made in the farmers’ defense. If we are to assume that police are wholly wanton and capricious with their powers, they could likely use the provisions of HB 87 to intimidate legal Latino workers with repeated citizenship checks. There are some people alleging that police tend to disproportionately target Latino workers when enforcing immigration laws. In this sense, one could argue that HB 87 is arguably legal on its face, but that it promotes de facto discrimination by police against Latinos working for Georgia farmers. The problem with this argument is simple: it not only requires police actually abuse the power (a highly subjective test, especially without evidence of police procedures and what evidence police work with in any given stop), but it also requires a showing that the law itself is more or less the cause of the discrimination. It seems unlikely that the ACLU (or any litigant, for that matter) would be able to prove that bad cops would be any less likely to harass Latinos workers were HB 87 not in existence.
Georgia farmers have been exploiting the lax enforcement of immigration policies for some time, and HB 87 is clearly a threat to their profits. While we all certainly like and benefit from cheap produce, law should not bend to the economic convenience of an industry, no matter how large and influential the industry is. If berries and corn cannot be grown as cheap as they are without illegal labor, then the price is unreasonably low, and it should be fixed.
III: In Conclusion
While this article may infer that HB 87 is entirely legal, I do not intend to make such a statement. As I mentioned in section I, there are many valid arguments to be made about various parts of HB 87, all of which deserve their day in court and in the political arena. Nonetheless, both in regards to the taxi complaints and the agricultural dispute, many claims against HB 87 are misinformed, misleading, or simply erroneous.