In the wake of hundreds of thousands of marchers demonstrating across the country in support of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million to 20 million (depending on what side you ask) illegal immigrants currently in this country, anti-illegal immigration groups have begun to mobilize efforts of their own.
Last month, the Georgia Legislature passed the Georgia Security & Immigration Compliance Act. Among other provisions, the tough state law denies some state-sponsored benefits to anyone who cannot prove their legal status and requires employers to maintain valid employment-authorization documents for workers in order to claim a tax deduction for wages.
One of the principle architects of the law is D.A. King. The 6-ft., 2-in. former U.S. Marine Corps corporal is president of the Dustin Inman Society, a group devoted to raising awareness of the consequences of illegal immigration.
On the eve of an Apr. 17 "No Amnesty!" rally on the steps of the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta, BusinessWeek correspondent Coleman Cowan sat down with King at his home in Marietta, Ga., to discuss his views on immigration, Georgia's Security & Immigration Compliance Act, and his plans for educating Americans about the harms of illegal immigration. Following are edited excerpts from their conversation.
What's the purpose of the rally on Monday? What do you hope to accomplish?
It's visibility. The American people need to know that they aren't the only ones sitting at home thinking this is crazy to have literally millions of people rallying to promote un-secure borders, rallying in the streets, literally demanding amnesty now, unconditionally. Their position has moved from "We're just here to work," and "We want to be guest workers," to...literally demanding an unconditional path to citizenship.
Is immigration a particularly important issue for Georgia, a non-border state, and if so, why?
Good question. I think it's very important we get our terms straight. There should be a noted distinction between "immigration" and "illegal immigration." We take in 1.3 million immigrants every year. I'm told that's more than the sum total of all the countries on this planet -- which I also find fascinating.
So, we have the largest legal immigration intake, and we have two to three times that many -- also the largest on the planet -- illegal immigration intakes. Immigration is important, but I regard it as a different topic than illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is most definitely important to Georgia in that Georgia right now has the seventh largest population, and one of the fastest-growing populations, of illegal aliens in the country.
State Senator Sam Zamarripa, here in Georgia, put that number at 20 million in a speech in 2003 to the Georgia Senate. Now, I don't have many conversations with the State senator, but I can assure you, he would like to put that genie back in the bottle if he ever could.
What are your thoughts on the Georgia Security & Immigration Compliance Act, or Senate Bill 529, as it was passed by the Georgia House and Senate?
It's interesting to me that people view it as watered-down or toothless. This bill is the strongest state-level legislation aimed at illegal immigration in the nation, by a very wide margin. Once it gets signed and publicized across the nation, we will be envied from coast to coast by people who understand this issue.
It's by far the most comprehensive and effective bill in the country. In it, we have the benefit of something called 287(g), taking advantage of a federal tool that was put into effect in a 1996 immigration-control act, that allows the feds to train state and local police -- not only to enforce state and local immigration laws, but this gives them the authority to apprehend, detain, and make the case for deporting illegal aliens, or more accurately, people who are in violation of Title 8 laws.
As a lobbyist, people have to go down there and explain existing federal law to those making state law, and then you will always have somebody across the hallway saying, "No that's not true." And you can print out the federal code -- I've done it -- and hand it a legislator, and say, "This is the law," and the other side will say, "He's anti-immigrant. Don't pay any attention to him."
In your mind, does the Georgia Bill go far enough to regulate employers to insure they have legally documented workers?
Does it go far enough? No. I look at Senate Bill 529 as, we have poured a foundation on which we can put laws to build further structure. 529 is really a foundation -- that's how I always describe it. No, it's not everything. If I could just write a law and pass it myself, this wouldn't have been it.
What else do you think needs to be done?
The gaping hole in this is that there's no serious penalty for using fraudulent documents to prove immigration status. Were that to be a felony, it would really clean up illegal immigration.
In your opinion, should a law like that apply to not only a worker using fraudulent documents but also to employers willing to accept those documents?
Most certainly, and it already does. The root of this problem is the employers and the bankers. And it always should be "employers and bankers." It's not just employers. If they were punished, as the law presently requires, we wouldn't have this problem.
Why should these laws apply to bankers as well as employers in your mind?
Because they're equally, if not more, connected to the root of the problem than employers. [Laws passed in 1986] make it a felony to encourage an illegal alien to remain in this country, to harbor an illegal alien. And the penalties are magnified for those people who profit commercially from either of those two things. I defy any reasonable person to convince me that making a mortgage loan to someone you know is in this country illegally isn't encouraging them to remain.
Was that ever part of any version of Georgia Bill 529?
No. But I look for states, including Georgia, to introduce legislation regulating the use of the I.T.I.N. [Individual Taxpayer Identification Number] within their own states. I'm of the opinion that even state-regulated banks can be controlled by that particular state and prohibited from using the I.T.I.N. for purposes the federal government makes clear weren't intended.
What do you see as the ultimate goal of your efforts?
The goal of legislation like 529 is to make Georgia less attractive than Alabama or North Carolina or Florida. If you want to come into the country illegally -- and right now you're being allowed to do that -- where do I want to settle?
Do I want to come to Georgia? They've got this bill -- the state police are going to enforce immigration laws. I'm going to have a much more difficult time using my fraudulent documents. They're going to verify me. By next year, I'm not going to get the same services I can get in Florida.
The goal is very clear -- it's to make Georgia less attractive to illegal immigration. If the Federal government isn't going to do its job -- imagine if all 50 states had a 529. So, you have to start somewhere.
So, in your mind, is one of the reasons that there's a need for Georgia Bill 529 that the Federal government has failed to act on immigration reform?
I think it's more accurate to say that the Federal government has refused to act to enforce our existing laws, and to most definitely secure our borders. I always considered myself a pretty liberal person before I started doing this, and a lot of people wince when I say that. I find it very odd that you get put into a slot simply by saying that the borders should be secure and the law should be equally applied -- "Oh, you must be some kind of a rightwing nut."
I have a lot of very liberal views on other issues, which I'm going to keep to myself [laughing]. My goal would be to have our borders as secure as are Mexico's, and have our immigration laws as diligently enforced as Mexico does theirs.
Talk to me about the Dustin Inman Society. What is it?
The Dustin Inman Society is merely a coalition of citizens, and real, legal immigrants with a goal of educating the public on the consequences of illegal immigration. [It's] named after my friend's son. Dustin Inman was in the back seat of the family car in the year 2000 on Father's Day weekend, on his way to go fishing in the mountains with his dad and his mom. An illegal alien, who happened to be from Mexico, who held a valid North Carolina driver's license...ran into the back of his car stopped at a light, at more than 70 miles per hour. [He] killed Dustin, put both of his parents in a coma -- neither of whom were able to go to his funeral, their only son -- and then put his mom, Kathy, in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
On our Web site, I hope you've seen a page that says "No more deaths." It's a very long list, and that's a fraction of a very long list of people who have been killed because our borders are not secure. The Dustin Inman Society is simply my effort to point out that illegal immigration has consequences.
Are there businesses in Georgia that you feel are running afoul of immigration laws?
I would say the majority of the businesses in Georgia are.
Are there any that the Dustin Inman Society is targeting?
Not to date. I have gone to day-labor sites and taken pictures of the contractors, who pick up what I believe to be illegal labor. And I believe that because I ask them, "Are you here legally, do you have a green card?" And they laugh at me, "No," very boastfully. The contractors give me the finger. One guy wanted to physically challenge me. I'm 25 pounds lighter -- this was a year ago, and it wasn't that great of an idea.
My point is, they know they're breaking the law, the employers and bankers. They know they're in violation, they know that any publicity shined on them will result in them possibly not being able to continue that.
Some of the donations you get come from immigrants, and I noticed that one of the scheduled speakers for Monday is a green card holder. Why are you receiving support from immigrants?
You aren't going to find [a] group in our country who [is] more resentful of our borders not being secure and what I believe are more than 20 million people being allowed to live and work here illegally than the real legal immigrants who have joined the American family lawfully. People who have been fingerprinted, waited in line, gone through the process, filled out the forms, had their backgrounds checked, waited around for seven, eight, 10 years in some cases, to become lawful permanent residents.
And they see half a million people demanding citizenship simply because they can raise their voices louder than the next guy, or because they're somehow connected with some ethnicity. "We're Latino, so we demand equal rights." You're going to find few groups in this country who are more angry about illegal immigration than real, legal immigrants. They call me. I don't call them.
Have you ever received any threats as a result of your views?
When I first started, I got threats -- "We're going to get gangs after you." The hate mail that comes to me from people saying, "This is our continent -- go back to Europe."
They're very, very clear on their message. It's not just, "We want to come here and work for a better life." There are people who will tell you quite clearly, "Most of the United States was stolen from Mexico, and we're going to take it back by any means necessary."