Two Governors and Immigration

By Mark Krikorian on February 22, 2011

I'd mentioned last week that Indiana governor Mitch Daniels has tried to avoid weighing in on a tough new immigration bill making its way through his state's legislature, despite freely dispensing his views on a variety of other issues of national importance. The Indianapolis Star had more on the topic Sunday, quoting people on both sides expressing their hope that Daniels will come down on their side:

"We would absolutely love to hear what he says about this bill. It's one of our top priorities in the tea party movement," said Monica Boyer, a leader of Kosciusko Silent No More. "It will show courage. It will show strength. Silence is never good on an issue like that."

Particularly not for a presidential prospect.

Lisa Deaton, a tea party activist from Columbus, said if Daniels "is even thinking remotely about being president, that puts him in a different arena than he was as governor."

"He needs to step up to the plate and say what he really thinks, and he might be able to influence it for the positive."

Likewise from opponents:

Daniels, Fong said, "is a man of vision and tolerance. What I think the bill represents is, at the very least, a lack of understanding of what it would do to our state economically."

And, he added, it will hurt Indiana's hospitable image.

"The bill goes, I think, contrary to what we want to believe is the best about Hoosiers," Fong said.

Daniels will eventually have to do or say something, because, as the Star reporter noted, "Democrats no longer control the House, so they can't be counted on to stop this legislation." But this kind of weaselly equivocation is at least understandable from a guy like Daniels — a corporate Republican, downplaying social issues (though immigration is very much a fiscal issue as well), and former chief of staff for Dick Lugar.

What mystifies me is Georgia governor Nathan Deal's weaselly equivocation on his state legislature's immigration legislation. Deal earned an A+ from Numbers USA during his 17 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, checked off all the right boxes when running for governor, and campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style law to Georgia.

But that was before the Farm Bureau got to him:

Speaking briefly to reporters Tuesday, Deal said he has heard questions about the reliability and accuracy of a federal work authorization program called E-Verify, which would be required for many private employers under some of the pending legislation. The program seeks to verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

Deal said he has not taken a position on either Senate Bill 40 or House Bill 87, both of which are similar to Arizona's tough new law aimed at illegal immigration. And while Deal campaigned last year on bringing an Arizona-style law here, he suggested Tuesday that Georgia has limits on what it can do.

"What we have to be mindful of as we go through a state legislative process is that we do what is within the power of the state to do," Deal said, "and to try to facilitate those who are trying to abide by the law and not become an undue burden on those who are trying to do what is right."

Deal said he would investigate concerns he has heard about E-Verify and meet with the authors of the state legislation. At the same time, Deal indicated he did not favor exempting certain industries from a requirement to use E-Verify. Senate Bill 40 includes exemptions for farmers and other employers who participate in federal guest worker programs.

"Well, I would hope we could come to some conclusion that would avoid that carving out of anybody in any particular category," Deal said.

Deal took questions from reporters about the legislation moments after speaking at a Georgia Farm Bureau luncheon. At that luncheon, the head of the Georgia Farm Bureau forcefully declared that enforcement of immigration laws is a "responsibility of the federal government."

He hasn't sold out yet, but this kind of stalling and evasion highlights the need for eternal vigilance, whoever the politician and whatever the issue. As my friend D. A. King, Georgia's immigration-control dynamo, put it:

The battle lines on ending the ongoing defacto state amnesty, real enforcement in Georgia and the outcome of HB 87 have been drawn. On one side is much of the business community, the Farm Bureau, the ACLU, the state Democratic party and the Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

The pro-American worker side is made up of the rule-of-law Republicans and the majority of the residents of Georgia.

Lucky for the latter group that the new governor has repeatedly promised to use the power of his office to put in place and sign such legislation and clearly endorsed statewide use of E-Verify, which is included in HB 87, during the campaign.

But, including this one, many working Georgians wonder out loud exactly when, and now if, those promises will be kept.