Monday, December 4, 2006

Cherokee County inflames debate on illegal immigration

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2006 at 5:59 PM

If Cherokee County Commissioner Karen Mahurin introduces an ordinance aimed at illegal immigrants on Tuesday night, the chance of it passing could come down to the vote of outgoing Chairman Michael Byrd, who lost his bid for re-election during the primary.

Mahurin introduced a Draconian ordinance on Nov. 8 that would require landlords to check the legal status of renters or risk losing their business licenses. The measure has generated national interest and would be the first of its kind in Georgia. Advocates say illegal immigrants drain community resources, while opponents say the law would turn landlords into immigration officers.

The commission delayed the vote that evening after many residents pointed to pending lawsuits in other cities that passed similar ordinances. A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a similar law in Hazelton, Pa. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Vic Walczak, who is involved in the Hazelton case, says it would be in the best interest of the county to wait.

"There are some matters that the framers of our Constitution saw needed to be addressed at the national level," Walczak says. "Postal service is one of these. Customs. Foreign policy. Imagine if Cherokee County passed its own standard about foreign goods coming into the county, or set different postal rates. You'd have a complete mess. Regulating illegal immigration is a decision that needs to be made at the national level."

If Mahurin introduces the ordinance Tuesday, she can expect to have some hell-yes support from Commissioner Derek Good. But commissioners Harry Johnston and Tim Hubbard both say they'll vote against the measure.

"We agreed that we were going to wait until at least one of the lawsuits involving similar ordinances was settled," Hubbard wrote in an e-mail to CL. "I cannot support it at this time due to the costs of the inevitable lawsuit."

Johnston echoes those sentiments, at least at this point.

"I'll probably have to vote against it," he wrote in an email to CL. "That's not because I don't think it has some merit. I just don't think we should rush into it. It needs more careful consideration. We should at least wait and see how the courts rule on similar ordinances elsewhere that are already in court. That shouldn't take too long, and it could save the county's taxpayers a lot of money."

That leaves Byrd in the position of tiebreaker. He didn't return CL's phone calls, so it'll be interesting to see how the wounded commissioner leans if the vote surfaces.

-- Alyssa Abkowitz and Max Pizarro

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