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Emanuel: Georgia's new immigration law should serve as national model
Story updated at 12:53 AM on Thursday, May 4, 2006

A comprehensive illegal immigration proposal successfully survived heated debate in both houses of the General Assembly this spring. Supporters hope other states will follow Georgia's lead, and that this legislation will be the beginning of a state-level immigration-reform movement across the nation. Gov. Sonny Perdue recently signed the measure into law, but it is sure to spark a major courtroom showdown in the near future.

Senate Bill 529, the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, was a much-needed response to the ever-increasing number of illegal immigrants in Georgia who benefit from the state's taxpayer-supported programs while avoiding paying into the system. Nobody seems to have an accurate count as to their number, with estimates putting it somewhere between 250,000 and 800,000 - a margin of error so large it provides an excellent illustration of the problem. The swelling underclass of illegal immigrants is straining Georgia's infrastructure to a point at which further inaction would be extremely detrimental to the state.

SB 529, a no-brainer to pass in an election year when almost 80 percent of Georgians want this issue addressed, prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving many taxpayer-funded benefits, establishes financial penalties for private employers who hire them, requires employers with public contracts to verify the immigration status of employees, and cracks down on human trafficking. It does not prohibit children from attending public school, nor does it deny them emergency medical care and other medical services - benefits which have already been largely guaranteed by federal courts.

This measure's passage sparked controversy among student groups, particularly with regard to the revocation of illegals' current ability to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities, a difference of roughly $12,000 per year.

"If you cut that (ability to pay in-state tuition), there's no way they can go to school," a Hispanic Student Association spokesman told The Red & Black, the University of Georgia's independent student newspaper, in a recent story. The spokesman added the dire warning that "educational barriers will only create a negative economic cycle among the illegal immigrants."

Threats regarding the enforcement of our nation's laws resulting in a cycle of economic depression aside, this legislation is, for the most part, a very positive step forward on the road to getting Georgia's - and America's - ballooning illegal immigration problem under control. The new state law doesn't advocate deportation or inhuman treatment of illegals, but encourages those who are here to make themselves known and to comply with the law, while discouraging those who are elsewhere from migrating to Georgia in hopes of gaining an under-the-radar, illegal free ride through the state's institutions and services - many of which are barely efficient enough to cater to legal, tax-paying citizens.

Undocumented "students," for example, are by law illegal; therefore, it makes perfect sense not to guarantee them privileges like in-state tuition, which are reserved for citizens of the state.
The price America pays for being the strongest, most prosperous and most free nation on Earth is that people the world over are constantly striving to emigrate here. Many of those people attempt to accelerate their relocation here by doing so outside the law. If we are going to pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, we must take care to differentiate between those in this country who are law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants, and those whose presence is a violation of law.

There will always be a demand for low-wage, high-efficiency, unskilled labor, which immigrants today so readily provide. As President Bush said in a recent American Free Press article, if an "American won't do a job and you can find somebody who will do the job, they ought to be allowed to do it legally."

While we as Americans are, and should be, 100 percent for immigration, we are, and must be, 100 percent for the law as well.

This has always been a nation of immigrants; our history as a "melting pot" is a large part of what has made us the great nation we are today. However, even more importantly in this modern age of terrorism than ever before, it cannot - and must not - be too much to ask that those who come to this country, be it for the lifestyle, the opportunities, the freedom, or the work, do so legally, and with a full disclosure of their intentions.

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, is a senior at the University of Georgia. He serves as public-relations director for the UGA College Republicans, the largest student political organization in the country.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 050406

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