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Our Views: Find the right fix
Illegal immigration proposals may have some merit, but only if they can avoid court challenges
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

With the legislative session under way, lawmakers are predictably releasing a flurry of bills that deal with illegal immigration.

The new push is just part of the ongoing effort to fix a problem that has remained unsolved for some time. It is based on the belief that the federal government continues to lack the political will to create new laws or enforce the ones already in place. And for many Georgia lawmakers, it plays well with the voters back home, which is always key to their motives.

The effort to fix immigration is an ongoing tussle between Washington and the states. State and local governments keep devising their own laws to address the influx of illegal residents because the federal government has been unable or unwilling to do so. But the feds often step in and insist it's a national issue, not a local one, and strike down state laws.

The first bill proposed Wednesday by Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, would give Georgia an enforcement plan against illegal immigrants similar to the one that has caused such an uproar in Arizona.

The bill would require law officers to detain an individual suspected of being an illegal immigrant. If the detainee lacks proper documentation, he or she would then be taken to jail and turned over to federal authorities.

Such a law would be one step beyond what is now enforced by Hall and three other Georgia counties under the federal 287(g) plan. That procedure calls for illegal immigrants who are arrested for other crimes, whatever they may be, to be turned over to immigration agencies. Yet under this statute, law officers are not required to detain someone just for looking like they might be here in violation of the law, a practice that raises the specter of racial profiling.

Ramsey's bill also would impose penalties on people who encourage an illegal immigrant to come to Georgia or who transport or hide illegal immigrants once they're in the state.

The Arizona law remains a model for Georgia and nine other states that are looking to create their own versions of it. This despite the fact that it remains in limbo after a federal court challenged some of its provisions as being unconstitutional.

Because of that, Gov. Nathan Deal says he prefers to focus on greater implementation of 287(g) across Georgia. Such a program has already been through legal review and won't face lengthy and expensive court challenges the state doesn't need.

Georgia legislators have passed enough laws in recent years, on issues ranging from voting to sex offenders, that failed to meet constitutional challenges. Continuing to do so is a waste of their time and our money.

Ramsey attempted to write his bill to avoid such a roadblock, but only time will tell, and only if it passes.

Another part of the bill, though, offers more promise. A similar provision is included in a proposal by Ramsey's co-chairman on the immigration committee, Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, that would address companies who knowingly hire illegal workers. It puts the burden of proof on them to prove their employees' legal status through the E-Verify online database.

The idea of going after the problem by cutting off the job supply has some merit. The overwhelming majority of those who cross the border illegally do so to find work here that is not available in their home countries. Take away that incentive and there's no reason for someone to risk their safety or security to come here.

Another benefit of such an enforcement plan is that it takes the burden off local agencies that already struggle to combat crime in their communities with shrinking budgets. The more responsibilities they are saddled with to eat up their time and resources, the harder it is for them to keep our streets safer.

The source of the illegal immigration problem is twofold: Border enforcement has been inadequate, and there is ample work in various U.S. industries to create the desire to come here. As columnist Ruben Navarrette has pointed out, they were "invited" here by loose borders and a ready supply of work.

It's a simple matter of supply and demand. Any immigration policy changes, or increased efforts to enforce existing laws, should address both concerns.

Comprehensive reform efforts have centered on tightening border security and creating a more flexible guest worker program to document those who come here to provide labor in agriculture, construction, hospitality and other industries that need the extra hands. That would benefit both workers and businesses, who would be freed up to focus on matters other than their employees' legal status.

Those who come here illegally put a burden on a community's schools and services, though most do pay taxes. Still, the goal of any enforcement effort should be to target true violations of the law, not an individual's nationality. Hard-working, law-abiding people should be able to find their way to employers who want them. Getting them here legally should be a common goal.

The federal government should work to solve this problem and not dump it on state and local agencies. But since that's not likely to happen any time soon, there's nothing wrong with state lawmakers proposing their own solutions, provided they do so effectively and humanely.

And legislators should make sure that any law passed can stand up in court. We need a solution that won't create a whole new set of problems just so a few legislators can play to voters' emotions.

Our state and nation need to devise a real fix to the immigration issue and not just put another Band-aid on it that won't stick.

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