Arizona’s immigration law has sparked controversy around the country, but here in Georgia, it seems a similar law would prove less divisive.
Statewide, 68 percent of people questioned in a poll commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership said they would support an Arizona-style law, which requires police officers, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
The poll, commissioned by The Times and 12 other newspapers that make up the Georgia Newspaper Partnership, was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research from July 8 through July 13.
Supporters of the law say the federal government hasn’t done enough to confront illegal immigration in Arizona, a major immigration portal into the United States. Opponents say the law would lead to racial profiling and distract police officers from handling crimes in their communities.
But such a law appears to be popular across party lines in Georgia.
A whopping 86 percent of Republicans polled expressed support for the law, highlighting why all the Republicans running for governor in Georgia have backed it.
“Republicans believe in the rule of law and want our laws to be enforced,” Georgia Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart said in a statement. “The Obama administration has failed to live up to its responsibility to secure our borders. If they won’t, Republicans will elect leaders that will.”
Many Democrats, 51 percent of those polled, also would support an Arizona-style law.
Leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes said in a debate Friday he would sign immigration legislation similar to Arizona’s if he is elected, adding he disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to sue over the law, according to Associated Press reports.
“Would I sign a law that had some of those elements? I would,” Barnes said. “But I would want to make sure it was not a racially profiling bill.”
Eric Gray, a spokesman for the Georgia Democratic Party, said he thinks the poll results show that people are frustrated about illegal immigration.
“The federal government has for decades not really handled this problem,” Gray said. “It’s clear that it’s time for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform.”
There is one demographic group largely opposed to immigration laws like Arizona’s.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, pointed out that the poll did not specifically identify Latino voters, who in other polls have been overwhelmingly against bringing such a law to Georgia.
GALEO has created a website, latino2010.org, that encourages Latino voters to voice their opinions at the polls this year.
“We want to make sure the candidates know that there are consequences on their positions on these xenophobic, anti-immigrant initiatives,” Gonzalez said.
While most candidates have discussed immigration, it has taken a back seat to the economy.
Only 6 percent of poll participants responded that immigration was the top issue that would determine their vote in the election, though Gainesville gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal has made the issue the cornerstone of his campaign.
“Immigration reform is a big part of Nathan Deal’s public record and what he has done for this state and this nation,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. “Nathan was the first candidate in this race to call for (bringing) a law similar to Arizona’s to Georgia.”
Robinson said Deal believes the high number of undocumented immigrants puts a burden on Georgia taxpayers, making it an important issue to the state’s future.
“This is a real issue, it is a pocketbook issue,” Robinson said. “It is of great concern to anyone interested in maintaining the rule of law.”
Gonzalez said he thinks the poll results don’t necessarily give a full blessing for an Arizona-type law in Georgia.
“Fundamentally, I think it expresses a frustration that our Congressional delegation has not solved the issue of a broken immigration system,” Gonzalez said. “I think what national polls have also indicated is a stronger majority of people support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as well.”
Gonzalez said he doesn’t think most people understand what the consequences of a law similar to Arizona’s would be.
“If we’re truly looking at wanting to enforce the rule of law, then what we’re really talking about is exporting our chicken processing to India, exporting our farms in Georgia to Mexico or somewhere in Latin America and really decimating the agriculture industry in our state,” Gonzalez said.
“It’s well-known and well-documented that the agriculture industry, including the poultry industry, rely heavily on immigrant labor, much of which is undocumented. Estimates put that undocumented work force anywhere between 30 and 50 percent.”
But Robinson said Deal supports an Arizona-style law to help with the issue until the federal government makes changes to the immigration system.
“The state of Georgia cannot implement visa reform, we can’t do that on the state government level,” Robinson said. “What we can do on a state level, which is what Nathan Deal is talking about in his run for governor, is enforcing the laws that we can enforce and empowering local officials to deport illegal immigrants who have come here outside of the legal framework.”