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Bill that would do right thing has uphill fight

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, is taking a lot of c--- for doing the right thing. In this case, the right thing is Senate Bill 170, which declares that anyone not legally in the United States is also not a legal resident of Georgia. Well, duh!

Rogers says his measure simply supports existing laws that already require recipients of government aid to be in the country legally. SB 170 mandates that "for any taxpayer-provided service that already requires you to be a resident of the state of Georgia, you have to provide some proof that you are a resident." Well, duh again!

For these radical ideas, he has caught editorial h--- from some of my colleagues in the media. He has been called "anti-alien," and his legislation has been termed "race-baiting" and "foreign hating." A typical insensitive Republican, correct? Close, but no cigar.

It seems that Democrats in Alabama are drafting legislation pretty much the same as Rogers' bill. Says a party official, "Illegal immigration is a serious problem facing our state and country. The Alabama Democratic Party hears the people, and we (are) planning bold steps to address these concerns."

Rogers' bill would not apply to some services. By federal law, public school systems must accept all children, regardless of legal status, and the law requires that hospitals, in life-threatening emergencies, provide treatment to illegal immigrants. That doesn't change. Rogers' bill would, however, deny illegal immigrants from attending Georgia's taxpayer-supported colleges and universities. And what is wrong with that?

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that we have more than a quarter of a million illegal aliens in Georgia. That is a sevenfold increase since October 1996. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, only six other states have larger illegal alien populations than Georgia.

Rogers told a recent rally that illegal immigrants may be costing the state up to $1 billion for everything from emergency room care and public schooling to incarceration and traffic congestion. Opponents challenge his numbers, but offer none of their own.

In fact, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates that the net cost of Georgia's foreign-born population was almost $1 billion 10 years ago because of the services they consume and their displacement of American workers throughout the state.

Who is the major culprit in the influx of illegal aliens into the state? The business community. Rogers admits that he has gotten indications of strong support from his legislative colleagues for SB 170, but a pained silence when it comes to his companion bills that would fine Georgia companies that hire illegal aliens.

Labor-intensive industries like construction, landscaping, hospitality and agriculture have a gold mine and don't want to give it up. They don't have to pay prevailing wage rates, don't have to provide health insurance and don't have payroll taxes to worry about. It gives them a major cost advantage over their competitors who naively obey the law.

Please don't tell me that illegal aliens are our only labor source. They are a cheap source. Period. Business can find qualified workers, if forced to. For example, Rogers says Florida is doing an excellent job of teaching young people job skills. It can be done here, too.

The senator is appropriately circumspect when he says industry representatives have "raised concerns" and that he is "seeking middle ground." Horse patoot. Illegal means illegal. If companies hire people who are here illegally, they should be given a swift kick in the pocketbook. Whether the Republican majority in the Legislature has the backbone to do so remains to be seen. I'm not hopeful.

Rogers has been fighting a lonely battle, but help may be on the way. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson says that "after Iraq, the No. 1 issue in Georgia is immigration" and intends to introduce federal legislation seeking to stem the flood of illegal aliens into the United States. When Isakson speaks, everybody should listen. I wish them both well in their efforts but until Georgia businesses decide to obey the law or our politicians decide to punish them for not doing so, not much is going to change.

Contact Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Visit his Web site at www.dickyarbrough.com. His column appears on Thursday.