Many city and county government agencies across Georgia have failed to comply with a key part of the state’s year-old anti-illegal immigration law. As a result, the agencies are at risk of losing access to state loans and grants.
In an analysis of public records, Jeremy Redmon of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the agencies did not file reports to confirm that they and their contractors were using E-Verify to check an employee’s immigration status. Lawmakers said the new law would keep undocumented immigrants from taking jobs from legal U.S. residents, but there has been little funding to educate agencies or check compliance.
Photo by Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jeremy’s Story Behind the Story
I’ve been covering Georgia’s efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration for the past three years as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a sweeping measure patterned after Arizona’s groundbreaking statute, Senate Bill 1070.
Among other things, Georgia’s law seeks to block illegal immigrants from getting jobs and public benefits in Georgia. It requires certain private and public employers to use the federal work authorization program called E-Verify. It severely punishes people who use phony documents to get a job in Georgia. And it created a new state panel to crackdown on state and local government officials who fail to enforce Georgia’s immigration-related laws. July 1 of this year is the one-year anniversary of Georgia’s law, so I decided to report on its impact.
I first set out to gauge the law’s impact on the number of illegal immigrants living in Georgia. That angle proved problematic. Here’s why: there are no official counts of illegal immigrants for each state, only estimates. And there are no year-to-hear estimates available that would help me do a comparison, at least not now. The Pew Hispanic Center, which puts out such estimates, has not yet released its tally for this year. The Homeland Security Department also releases such estimates. But it based its last two tallies on different sets of census data, so a comparison is not possible. I decided to switch my focus to how the law is being enforced.
Over three weeks of reporting, I found numerous gaps, missing reports and confusion stemming from the law. For example, I found many city and county government agencies had failed to file required reports with the state, certifying they and their public works contractors are using E-Verify. Their failure to comply with the law is putting them at risk of losing access to key state loans and grants. My reporting prompted a few to file their reports. Additionally, at least one government organization signed up to use E-Verify after I informed its director that it was not enrolled in the program. I also exposed how the state did not fund any audits that are contemplated under the law to confirm state and local government entities are using E-Verify as required.
Further, I surveyed 10 prosecutors representing 15 counties – including seven from the Atlanta area – and found none had sought to convict anyone of using phony documents to get a job, one of the new offenses created in the state’s immigration enforcement law. I also found the state panel that was created to crackdown on government officials who fail to enforce state immigration-related laws had received only two complaints and that both those complaints will likely be dismissed soon. Lastly, I exposed how state legislators inadvertently exempted the smallest city, county and state government agencies from requiring their public works contractors to use E-Verify.
The AJC published my work as part of a two-part series on June 24 and 25. Each part ran on the newspaper’s front page. In all, the AJC published three articles and several glance boxes, totaling nearly 100 column inches. The project was also featured prominently on ajc.com. This project would not have been possible without the support, guidance and capable editing of my editors, Monica Richardson, Susan Abramson and Victoria Hicks.
My work has received favorable reviews from my sources and readers. For example, Jackie Crowe, a retired teacher from Stockbridge, wrote in an email to me: “It looks like AJC investigative reporting is the lightning rod that jumpstarts many to file their required reports under E-Verify! Your work is helping secure our borders!” The author of Georgia’s law – Republican state Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City – said he was open to tweaking the statute to address the gaps I uncovered.
The Institute for Justice and Journalism fellowship I attended this year boosted my understanding of federal immigration law, particularly as it relates to the deportation process and ways to obtain legal status in the United States. The fellows heard from a veteran immigration attorney about the complexities in the law and met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials about how they apply the law. We also heard presentations from fellow journalists about how to obtain key records that could build the foundation for compelling articles about immigration enforcement, prosecutorial discretion and investor visas.
The fellowship prompted me to pitch this ambitious project. And it gave me the confidence to execute it. I am grateful for the experience.