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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What might Georgia's HB 87 mean for Gwinnett?

Carole Townsend 

Carole Townsend 

House Bill 87 went into effect on July 1 here in Georgia. An attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, this controversial legislation has spurred marches, calls for boycotts and, some say, racial division. Georgia is experiencing some of the same blowback that Arizona did when state lawmakers passed similar legislation, but the questions remain: Is HB 87 necessary? Is it morally sound? Is it legally sound? Will the bill accomplish what lawmakers intended?

On the “pro” side of the argument, supporters of the new law say that weeding out illegal immigrants will provide much-needed relief for public school systems groaning under the staggering numbers of children enrolled. They say that the drain on the state’s health care system will slow drastically. They say that jobs will be more plentiful without illegal immigrants taking jobs primarily in the restaurant, agricultural and landscaping industries.

Opponents of the law warn that businesses, already struggling simply to stay afloat in a grim economy, will be tasked with verifying workers’ eligibility to work legally. They say that the law, by its very nature, encourages racial profiling. They say that Georgia’s agricultural industry, estimated to generate about $7.4 million annually, will suffer the most from HB 87, since migrant workers are often the only ones who will perform the back-breaking work demanded by farming.

It’s a tough issue, one that impacts human beings. I do believe that the burden on schools and the health care industry has to stop, but I also know that there are thousands of “legal” citizens who rip off and manipulate the system to obtain Medicaid, food vouchers, rent considerations and other “entitlements” to which they are not entitled. I don’t understand at all why an illegal immigrant might be entitled to special scholarships or reduced tuition. I guess I get stuck on the term “illegal.”

I don’t know everything that’s involved in becoming a legal citizen of the United States. I do have friends who took that route, and they are proud that they did. I am aware of people who are here and say they would like the opportunity to become legal citizens, but they are afraid to come forward or are unaware of how the process works. I have seen differing information with regard to the number of illegal immigrants here in Gwinnett County, but various documents address the significant impact of this population on Gwinnett Medical Center, GCPS, and public safety personnel and facilities.

What’s your opinion? If this crackdown on illegal immigrants causes a large portion of that population to leave Gwinnett, how will our economy be impacted? What changes would you expect to see if HB 87 causes a mass exodus from the county and state?