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Want to start a business? First, prove you’re legal

State groups are pushing local governments to require an affidavit for U.S. citizenship

POSTED: July 26, 2009 12:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Sharon Lance, right, owner of Curt's Cafeteria, helps customer Shirley Porter with her bag Thursday afternoon during the lunchtime rush at the Oakwood restaurant. The city of Oakwood has approved requiring potential business owners to fill out an affidavit saying they are U.S. citizens, and Lance said she supports the idea.

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The issue has caused some noise statewide, but it went unnoticed on July 13, when Oakwood City gave its final approval.

The City Council unanimously amended its business license law to require applicants to file an affidavit asserting they are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

City Manager Stan Brown said later that the city moved on the issue at the suggestion of the Georgia Municipal Association, which "basically encouraged cities to adopt it to be consistent with state law changes."

The state organization had deliberated the matter, which sprang out of the state legislature's approval in 2007 of the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act.

"The law says if you provide a public benefit, then you need to be verifying the citizenship of the person that you're providing the ... benefit to," said Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman with the municipal group.

"We've had some question as to whether or not a business license is really a public benefit, mainly because a business license really isn't the correct name for it. It's a tax."

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, and Rep. Stacey Y. Abrams, D-Atlanta, sought the opinions of the Attorney General's Office on several issues related to the law, which went into effect July 1, 2007.

"The attorney general's answer was ‘maybe, maybe not,'" Henderson said. "Obviously, we want cities to be in compliance with the law, so one of our recommendations (to city governments) was ... it just may be better to (pass the law)."

Beth Brown, spokeswoman for Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said legal counsel for the organization is "advising counties that they should consider looking at their ordinances to comply."

"There's not a huge push. We are just encouraging (county government) to look at them," she said.

Nikki Young, spokeswoman for Hall County, said Hall has started requiring the affidavit as part of the application, but she didn't have an exact date for when that began.

Susan Rector, business license director, was out of town last week and couldn't be reached for comment.

Young said if an applicant isn't a citizen, "then he or she is asked for proof of legal entry status, such as the green card."
Gainesville doesn't require an affidavit, but applicants are asked on a form about their citizenship status.

"And we just have (applicants) show us documentation," said Debbie Jones, city marshal.

She said she was going to research the state law further. "I'm kind of concerned (as to) do we have to have that in place," Jones said.

Flowery Branch does not require the affidavit. "Our attorney is looking into it," said City Clerk Melissa McCain.

The idea surfaced in Oakwood as part of City Clerk Tangee Puckett's efforts to get clerk certification, said Patti Doss-Luna, assistant city manager. The matter then went through City Attorney Donnie Hunt, she said.

Oakwood Councilman Gary Anderson strongly supports the ordinance change. "I don't have a problem with people being here from other countries as long as they come through the process and become U.S. citizens or have a green card, or something like that," he said.

"Someone who's here illegally — I really have a problem with that."

The law change "is just a continuation of the general feeling of the council and the city that we really don't want illegal aliens in our city," Anderson said.

At least a couple of Oakwood business owners said they support the change.

"I think it's a good idea," said Joan Smith, who owns Cool Beans Coffee Cafe and Deli on Mundy Mill Road with her husband, Joe. "To be a good citizen, to go by the laws that we have for everyone - they do that, then they can do anything they want."

Sharon Lance, owner of Curt's Cafeteria on Branch Road, said applicants should either be a U.S. citizen or "be legal by paperwork or whatever needs to be done to have a business here."

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, has problems with the affidavit requirement.

"How is a Coca-Cola going to prove legal residency? The notion, in and of itself, is really absurd," he said. "A corporation can be instituted when there are multiple interests that come to the table to form a corporation to do business in Georgia."

The company then would have "to make sure to send a citizen for a business license," he said, adding a laugh.

"This is part of the reason why we oppose any type of effort to attempt to regulate federal immigration laws at the local or state level," Gonzalez said. "It does get complicated and ... problematic at times."

Besides, he added, the nation likely is "going to have comprehensive immigration reform."

President Barack Obama "has indicated that is a priority for him," Gonzalez said.

"I think (Oakwood) is wasting its time and ultimately should be focusing on the interests of local residents. If they are really concerned about immigration, they should be urging our congressional delegation to vote in favor a solution."



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