AP News

Ga. immigration board moves to set up hearing


ATLANTA (AP) — A state panel created to ensure that government employees comply with Georgia's tough immigration law will likely hold its first hearing on a complaint early next year.

Members of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board on Thursday voted to instruct chairman Ben Vinson to take steps to set up a hearing on a July complaint by D.A. King, an activist against illegal immigration.

The complaint alleges the state Department of Community Affairs isn't complying with a state law requirement to collect specific information from government agencies that administer public benefits and to compile that information in a report by Jan. 1 of each year.

Vinson also announced during the meeting that board member Robert Mumford recently resigned from the board to become a Rockdale County Superior Court judge. House Speaker David Ralston, who appointed Mumford to the board, is responsible for choosing his replacement.

Created under the state's strict 2011 law, the board is charged with investigating and reviewing complaints filed by any Georgia registered voter that a state or local government employee or official is violating state laws related to immigration. It began accepting complaints early this year.

The board has broad power to investigate complaints, hold hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses and take disciplinary action. Public employees or officials found to have "knowingly and willfully violated or failed to abide by" the laws can be punished by a fine of up to $5,000.

However, the board has gotten few financial resources and no paid staffers to help it fulfill its mission. The logistical requirements for a hearing, including bringing in a court reporter and having subpoenas delivered, need to be figured out, Vinson said after the hearing.

Board members went back and forth over whether they should get the ball rolling on setting up a hearing or wait for the Department of Community Affairs to submit additional data for 2012 that is due at the end of the year.

Board member Phil Kent pushed for a hearing, saying it was clear to him the department wasn't complying with the law.

"We are the only entity that can sanction. We can't just continue to have non-compliance, in my opinion," he said.

John Turner, director of the department's community development division, said he believed the agency was complying with the law and that it had taken concrete steps to educate other agencies that are supposed to submit reports. He said the department had addressed the issues in the complaint and asked that it be dismissed.

"We want to see total compliance with this law, but DCA is not a regulatory agency," he said, later adding, "We have no means by which we can require public entities in the state of Georgia to register and report."

King, who has filed four of the five complaints received this year by the board, has expressed frustration that the board hasn't moved more quickly and decisively on his complaints. He said he wasn't optimistic that meaningful action would result from the board's future steps.

"I have seen no action taken by this board that would deter any agency from committing future violations," King said after Thursday's meeting.

King's first complaint, which targeted the city of Atlanta, was resolved when the city council repealed an old ordinance to comply with state law. The board has delayed action on another of his complaints until it sees how things play out with the one that seems destined for a hearing. He recently submitted a letter to the board withdrawing his fourth complaint. The board's fifth complaint was dismissed after a preliminary investigation for lack of cause.

The complaint King withdrew claimed that nearly 1,200 state agencies that are required to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of new hires had failed to submit compliance reports to the state auditor as required by law. After the board delayed action on the complaint at its meeting in September, King asked the attorney general's office to pursue the complaint. The attorney general's office said it would not get involved because the complaint was pending before the board. In a letter that he said he planned to mail after Thursday's meeting, King asked the attorney general's office to reconsider the complaint now that it's no longer pending before the board.


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