Like the rest of Georgia, Columbia County will soon feel the effects of changes made in the 2006 session of the Georgia Legislature.
A Morris News Service story in today's edition of The News-Times, by former News-Times News Editor Vickie Eckenrode, spells out some of those changes, which include the 65 percent rule requiring a set amount of classroom spending; new restrictions on the use of eminent domain; and tough new laws on sexual predators.
But perhaps the most important piece of legislation passed by lawmakers is one that joins a national debate: The Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, now awaiting the governor's expected signature, is one of many measures around the country taking a stab at the problem of illegal immigration.
Though it's a national issue, it's a local one, too. As Valerie Rowell's story in the April 5 News-Times points out, the area's construction and agricultural services industries could be hard hit by tougher enforcement of laws against illegal immigration.
"It's going to be a problem," says Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau. His city is the center of the Augusta area's highest density of Hispanic immigrants. Many of them are illegal, and provide cheap manual labor and hard-to-find expertise in skilled trades.
If properly enforced, the new state law could weed out illegals by prohibiting employers from deducting payroll taxes for workers without proper documentation. Most local employers claim they already collect those documents - and can't be expected to verify their authenticity when forgeries are so common.
But even more common are illegals themselves, who continue to pour across the nation's southern border in search of jobs that are too dirty or low-paying for Americans, yet which often provide a higher standard of living for Latin American migrants.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, points out that the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia multiplied more than sixfold from 1990 to 2000. That's not an immigration - that's an invasion.
The federal government must take the lead. Georgia's new law is a good one, but until the feds secure the nation's borders, the Peach State's effort will barely be a drop in a leaky bucket.
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