ATLANTA - Shutting down the flow of illegal immigrants into America would be counterproductive for the nation economically and even culturally, a group of Hispanic college students and their professorial allies warned Friday.
"Nobody is denying that illegal immigration is a problem," Amanda Barnes, president of the Mexican-American Student Alliance at Kennesaw State University and a freshman from Cherokee County, told a rally of about 50 people gathered outside a state Capitol otherwise virtually empty on the day after Thanksgiving.
"But targeting people and taking away their human rights is wrong."
Barnes and other speakers criticized two legislative proposals pending in the General Assembly aimed at making Georgia less attractive to a rapidly growing population of illegal immigrants.
Both a Senate bill and a constitutional amendment introduced in the House seek to deny certain taxpayer-funded services to anyone who can't prove they are legal Georgia residents.
Since 1992, the state's population of illegal immigrants has soared by 777 percent to an estimated 250,000, seventh largest in the nation.
The bills' supporters say something must be done to make Georgia less of a magnet for illegal immigration, which, according to some estimates, is driving up the costs of such services as education, health care and law enforcement to state taxpayers by up to $1 billion a year.
But on Friday, Barnes questioned that price tag and other statistics that are being used by opponents of illegal immigration.
Other speakers at Friday's rally said the costs of illegal immigrants must be balanced against their invaluable contributions to the economy.
"They take jobs no one else wants to take," said the Rev. Aquiles Martinez, an associate professor of religion at Reinhardt College. "(And) they're active consumers."
Robert DeVillar, director of the Center for Hispanic Studies at Kennesaw State, also suggested that the latest wave of Hispanic immigrants into the U.S. is part of a tradition of foreign immigration that has made America uniquely rich in diversity.
"This country is culturally attuned to immigration and long ago learned to integrate immigrants into its culture and economy," he said.
However, in acknowledging that illegal immigration is a problem in America, Friday's speakers offered several approaches they said would be better solutions than denying taxpayer-funded services to illegals.
Martinez said he supports efforts to beef up security along U.S. borders and enforce stricter identification requirements.
Alan LeBaron, a history professor at Kennesaw State, said the key lies in going after employers who hire illegal immigrants.
"We don't talk about illegal employers," he said. "(But) we cannot talk about illegal workers without talking about illegal employers."