A new season of our least popular American sport officially began last
month when Gov. Sonny Perdue appeared at the Division of Motor Vehicles
office with an entourage of government agents. It was then, in that
low-flung building above I-85, that Perdue announced a statewide crackdown
on undocumented workers who he said are illegally attempting to obtain
Georgia driver's licenses.
It was a general-election equivalent to the opening tip, the kickoff, the
leadoff hitter taking his first cut at a fastball, the strong-man contestant
hurling the hammer of Thor.
"Until Congress steps up," the governor said, "it looks like we're going
to be left to fight this battle."
Perdue said illegals are using fraudulent IDs to obtain jobs and drive on
Georgia's roads. And if that weren't contemptuous enough, the illegals have
taken the galling next few steps... of annihilating America.
"It is simply unacceptable," said the governor, "for people to sneak into
the country on Saturday, obtain a driver's license on Sunday, head to the
welfare office on Monday, and vote on Tuesday."
He said he would be asking the Legislature to designate funds ($900,000
to $1 million) to place Department of Driver Services (DDS) investigators in
the 10 highest-need driver-services facilities in the state to issue
warrants and arrest criminals who are trying to commit fraud.
Already riding the passage of a law-enforcement act to combat illegal
immigrants, the governor was again inflating the immigration issue in an
election year. Georgia's the No. 1 undocumented-worker destination in
the country, just as coincidentally immigration is the No. 1 issue for
Georgia voters, according to almost all of the polls, or at least according
to those who tell us about the polls.
dAt the time, that press conference looked like it might be a big moment,
one that would help define Perdue's re-election effort.
Of course, there were those who knew better.
"I don't think immigration will be a seminal issue in the governor's
race," political analyst Matt Towery said in the immediate aftermath of the
event. "It fits the pattern of a mosaic that Sonny is trying to convey."
In the governor's race at least, Towery's proved right.
Immigration hasn't been a big issue, but neither has practically anything
else. With the exception of education and government corruption, there have
been no issues in the governor's race. "Mark Taylor (the Democratic Party's candidate
for governor) has no momentum," said political commentator Dick Williams of
the Georgia Gang.
Issues only count in a close contest. That's when a tough-guy stance on
illegal immigration can become an edge. Sixteen to 20 points up in most
polls, Sonny hasn't needn't that edge.
Which brings us to the person who desperately does need it: George W.
On Thursday, in a ceremony brimming with pomp and gravity, the president
authorized the construction of a 700-mile long fence on the border of
Mexico. No matter that there's no money for the fence. No matter that
Congress passed the bill last month. The get-tough Texan's congressional
leadership wanted a signing close to election day. The supposedly strong
leader who doesn't look at the polls, who has said he favors granting
illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, crumbled in the pressure cooker of
a political year, and signed the crackdown measure.
For once, he tried to tone down the tough talk.
"There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to
citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation," Bush said, "and I look forward to working with Congress to find that middle
It's always the mark of a true diplomat and confident leader when he
finds the middle ground by imposing the more stringent measures first,
before he begins to negotiate.
The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) size up the
Republicans' actions on immigration -- both state and federal -- as
mean-spirited demagoguery. The group's spokesman, Jerry Gonzalez, said he
believes Georgia's immigration act over time will be challenged in court,
and many of the provisions overturned. The Georgia Security and Compliance
Act doesn't take effect until next year. Some provisions don't kick in until
the year after. In part, the act mandates that police check the legal status
of people they arrest and report violations to the feds. "That law,"
Gonzalez said this week, "opens the state up to charges of discrimination on
all levels. It's clear that the state is ill-equipped to handle these kinds
of provisions. They will have to be scaled back dramatically."
Perdue and Gonzalez agree on one thing. "The leadership in Congress has
failed to implement something comprehensive to address the immigration
crisis," Gonzalez says. "That's where the solution lies, at the federal
level." Of course, where the governor and Gonzalez most dramatically part
company is on the role the state should play.
"States are over-reacting because Congress is failing to produce a
solution," Gonzalez says.
In order to develop an effective policy to eliminate illegal immigration,
"We must look at immigration reform through the lens of homeland security,"
he explains. "Who's coming in and why? The fence is more a matter of big
government contracts than a piece of comprehensive reform. Second, we need
to look at economic development. If Senate Bill 529 (the Georgia Security
and Compliance Act) were actually administered properly, 50 percent of the
work force in Dalton, for example, would disappear. Twenty-five percent of the work
force in Gainesville would disappear. Politicians are out of touch with the
business interests of the state and the country. As a nation we depend on
immigrant labor. And third, we have to make sure immigration reform reflects
who we are as Americans."
That will only happen when Elmer Gantry and his cronies are further
fenced in by their minority status after Nov. 8. On Friday, Democrats such as
Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, were pumped up on their door-to-door get-out-the-vote campaign.
"If we can change course, we can move away from polarizing issues like
immigration," says the veteran civil rights activist. "You can stop
demagoguing immigration for one. We are a nation of immigrants. Even though
we have a process, we should be patient and tolerant. People are coming here
because they want to work. They're getting money to send back to their
families. We have always worked with those who come to this country and find
themselves in the same predicament that we are in. As (the Rev. Joe) Lowery
pointed out two weeks ago, ÔWe are all God's children.' The Senate Bill,
which included a path for citizenship for undocumented workers, was a much
better proposal than what Bush signed yesterday. Maybe it will be revived
next year when the Democrats take over."
Which means a betting man can probably count on Perdue versus Pelosi.
-- Max Pizarro
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