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Boy, oh, boycott
Georgia economy could take a hit if Governor Deal signs new Arizona-style immigration bill

Organizations opposing House Bill 87, Georgia's pending immigration reform bill, are planning a comprehensive boycott of tourism and in-state businesses if the bill is signed into law by Governor Deal.

"There are definitely discussions going on," says Erik Voss, the Executive Director of the International Center of Atlanta, who has been part of meetings, but whose organization hasn't officially taken a stance on whether it will support the boycott or not.

HB 87, known as the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011," is similar to Arizona's contentious SB 1070, which was signed into law last spring amidst massive rallies and protests.

Groups from around the country have sent letters to the Governor's office requesting that he veto the bill, and warning of the consequences of signing the bill into law.

"A national network of organizations...has sent a letter to Governor Deal of Georgia notifying [him] of efforts underway to organize a national boycott of Georgia," says a press release from Somos Georgia, a coalition of immigrants' rights groups that opposes the legislation.

On April 6, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network sent Deal a letter saying "Organizers of the boycott are prepared to contact all conventions, organizations, companies, cities, counties, and states that are participating in the Arizona boycott, to advise them of the current status of the legislation and put them on notice regarding the pending Georgia boycott."

On April 11, a coalition of groups dropped off petitions containing 23,000 signatures to the governor's office. The signatures of those opposing the bill had been gathered in two weeks.

The governor's office has downplayed the situation. When we asked if they had received correspondence opposing HB 87, Press Secretary Stephanie Mayfield responded to our email with a single sentence:

"Our constituent services department has not received any correspondence from the group below as of late."
When asked to explain what group she was referring to, or to quantify "as of late," we received no response.

A boycott of tourism, the state's second largest industry, could have significant impacts. Nearly a quarter million people are employed by tourism-related industry, according to the state's Department of Economic Development, and a reduction in visitors to the Peach State would affect private business and public sector budgets alike.

In Savannah, visitor spending in 2009 was more than $1.2 billion, of which 38 percent was lodging, 26 percent was food and beverage, and 17 percent was retail, according to data from the Savannah Chamber of Commerce.

Visitors also generate more than $12 million annually in hotel/motel tax revenue locally.

Fearing the economic outcomes of both negative national media attention and the potential boycott, the Atlanta City Council formally called for Gov. Deal not to sign the pending law. The Fulton County Commission also opposes the legislation, according to reports by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In Arizona the economic impact of SB 1070 was substantial, including $141 million in lost spending by conference attendees, thousands of lost jobs in the state, and $14.4 million in lost tax revenue, according to a study commissioned by the Center for American Progress.

"Georgia has a lot more at stake," says Jerry Gonzalez, who heads the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

"Our tourism industry is much larger than Arizona's, and it's more widespread across the state."

The economic stakes for Georgia are bigger than a tourism boycott, with some groups also discussing a boycott of in-state businesses like Delta, Home Depot and Coca-Cola.

"Home Depot didn't take a position on the bill for or against," said a representative for the company.

The bill's opponents, however, argue that even if corporations didn't support the legislation, their silence provided tacit consent, and their political clout would be sufficient to stop the legislation in its tracks.

Regardless of whether the boycott happens, or if its effects are felt by businesses or tourist destinations, Deal's signature on HB 87 will cost the state millions of dollars.

Beyond the hypothetical impacts, the one certainty seems to be that taxpayers will absorb the cost of legal fees incurred by the state as it defends the law in court.

"There will be federal litigation as the next step of this process," says Gonzalez. "There are very serious constitutional questions with this legislation."

In Arizona, a federal court filed an injunction preventing implementation of several pieces of SB 1070. That ruling was upheld in appellate court recently.

In a year, Arizona has surpassed $1 million of spending on legal fees battling over the constitutionality of that state's immigration reform measures, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

That same report found that the town of Hazleton, Penn., has already spent more than $2.8 million defending immigration enforcement ordinances it tried to pass last year.

When Georgia spends money on defending a bill that contains likely unconstitutional language intended to supersede the authorities of the federal government, it will come from a budget that has already seen more than $2.9 billion in cuts, including hundreds of millions in cuts to education.

While the state is paying for court costs, local governments will also be forced to figure out how to pay for increased administrative costs associated with new regulations they must comply with in order to maintain current levels of state funding.

Local governments who fail to file annual reports detailing compliance measures of public contractors and sub-contractors could be penalized with a ten percent cut in state funding.

The long term effects of the bill are unknown or ineffective in many aspects.

Last week, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black announced that the department would carry out a "truthful, thorough" study on the effects of the legislation to the state's agriculture industry.

The study will be completed by January 1, 2012. The law takes effect on July 1, 2011 if it is signed by the governor.

Although immigration reform has been sold as salve for the lack of job creation in the state - once all the illegal immigrants are chased off, citizens can have their jobs (even if those jobs are some of the lowest paying and thankless) - Georgia's bill likely won't have the same "attrition through enforcement" affect on the job market that supporters of Arizona's legislation celebrated.

While businesses with more than 10 full time employees will have to enact the E-Verify system to ensure legal status of all employees - or lose their business license in the state - only "future" employees will need to be screened.

In short, this means that the "illegal aliens" HB 87 wants to chase out of Georgia's labor market won't even be subject to the check.