Local businesses take a major hit from anti-immigrant state legislation in Georgia

When state legislators are attempting to push anti-immigrant legislation on their residents, they usually don't talk about the ripple effects of attacks on immigrant communities. As advocates for migrant rights continue to stress, immigrants are an economic, social and cultural boon for rurual and southern communities. They have helped revive businesses and open new industries. The article below highlights that the new anti-immigrant legislation is beginning to hurt local businesses, in particular used car dealerships. This is just one example of larger trends that effect us all when immigrants are targeted. [thanks to NILC for this article]

GA: New State Law Affects Illegal Immigrants The Atlanta Journal-Constitution July 18, 2007 By Mary Lou Pickel

Left without a ride: Unable to meet the law's requirements to register a car, it's increasingly a case of no sale. Car dealers and insurance agents feel the pinch.

Jose Genao sells used cars for a living, but lately, he's had to turn away customers from his Smyrna dealership.

Genao used to sell about 15 vehicles a week, mostly Ford F-150 or Silverado pickups to a Mexican clientele. Now he sells only two or three.

Half a dozen customers have returned cars because they can't register them.

"They bring the key and tell me, 'Jose, I'm leaving,' " Genao said.

Genao is feeling the fallout from a new state law, effective July 1, that requires a valid Georgia driver's license or ID card to register a car in Georgia.

The law is cutting deep into traffic for many auto dealers and tag and title services catering to the state's growing immigrant community. Illegal immigrants can't get driver's licenses because to do so, they must prove they're in the country legally.

The law also has the potential to cut into sales taxes and county ad valorem tax revenues, though metro Atlanta counties say it's too early to measure that effect.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), said he did not target immigrants.

"Yes, this will impact people who are here illegally, but my biggest focus is public safety," he said.

"If [car dealers and tag services] have built their business on people who are here illegally, I'm sorry, but at some point they had to realize that was not going to continue," Rogers said.

The license plate law closes a window that gave motorists 30 days to get Georgia driver's licenses after moving to the state. In the interim, a driver could register a car with an out-of-state or international license.

Also effective July 1 was a separate, 2006 law requiring increased verification of legal status in Georgia for a variety of other purposes, including to work in some jobs or qualify for welfare.

While no one knows how many illegal immigrants are in Georgia, a government estimate put the number at about 470,000. Nationally, most illegal immigrants are from Mexico, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, India and China, according to a 2005 Department of Homeland Security report.

Genao, 34, has a green card and has lived in the United States eight years. If business doesn't pick up, he might return to his native Dominican Republic to tend to a car dealership there.

"If they don't do something, a lot of businesses are going to close," he said.

Tony Brooks, an insurance agent who caters to the Hispanic community in Marietta, said business for his tag and title service has dropped off about 80 percent since the law went into effect.

"It's definitely slowing things down, that's for sure," Brooks said.

He's had to turn away 30 to 40 people wanting tags in the past two weeks because they don't have Georgia driver's licenses.

His main business is auto insurance, which hasn't suffered, but he's worried immigrant customers won't buy insurance either if they can't register their cars.

Cobb County's tag offices have seen a "significant decrease" in the volume of applications submitted by tag and title services in the past two weeks, said Stewart Manley, manager of Cobb County's tag offices.

The county also has turned away about 40 people per day, Manley said, out of an average 1,900 customers served daily. Some are people who have moved from other states and don't have Georgia driver's licenses yet, Manley said. "They're complaining mildly," he said.

Tax collectors in Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties said it is too early to tell how the new license plate law would affect tax collection.

"You really won't see the effect economically for six months," said Brent Bennett, director of vehicle registrations for DeKalb County.

Loopholes exist even with the new law.

An illegal immigrant can still mail in a tag renewal or go online and avoid the need to show a driver's license.

That's what Raul Hernandez plans to do. He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who came here legally but overstayed his visa and so has a Georgia driver's license. He doesn't have to worry about the tag problem, but his friends do.

"People have asked me to get tags for them in my name. Right now I said 'No, it's not worth the risk. If they get tickets, they'll be sent to me,'" he said in Spanish.

"Right now people are scared, but it will settle down and go back to normal," Hernandez predicted.

Isaias Zavala, 33, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who works construction, said he has no license but his wife does, so he registers their car through her. Still, he worries because he has to drive to work.

"This all seems very bad to me," he said in Spanish of the new law.

Perimeter Insurance Agency used to process 25 tags per week in one Cobb County location. Since July 1, they've done only three renewals, said Jose Mendez, part owner of the business.

His co-owner, Rick Craddock, said he appreciates his immigrant customers.

"We love these people," Craddock said.

But he acknowledges there is a problem with illegal immigration. "We have to secure the border and slow the influx," he said. "The solution is not to kick out all the people who are already here."

July 1-- The date the new vehicle registration law took effect $470,000 -- Government estimate of the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia, but the actual number is unknown.

40 -- The number of people Cobb County's tag offices have turned away per day out of an average 1,900 customers served daily.