ATLANTA — A coalition of Georgia business and labor organizations called Wednesday for immediate federal immigration reform, citing a new poll they say shows a majority of the voters surveyed agree.
However, the same survey also showed that just 5 percent of those questioned listed immigration reform as the most important issue facing the country.
The call for reform came from representatives of the Technology Association of Georgia, the Georgia Restaurant Association, the Georgia Poultry Federation and the unions ALF-CIO and Workers United.
“You cannot dismiss the economic data because it is clear; it is compelling; it is real, and it is conservative,” said ex-Sen. Sam Zamarippa, D-Atlanta, the founder of The Essential Economy Council.
The majority of cooks and dishwashers are immigrants, according to Karen Bremer, executive director of the Restaurant Association, who said U.S.-born workers either don’t apply for those jobs or won’t keep them long.
And the high incidence of identity theft makes it difficult for employers to verify citizenship of people who do apply.
“The problem: there is virtually no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the U.S. to enter the country and work in year-round jobs, virtually no temporary or permanent work visas, except for seasonal jobs,” she said.
The coalition supports granting more visas to high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants, tougher border security and a way for undocumented aliens to become U.S. citizens.
Since one in four high-tech startups – such as Google and eBay – has a recent immigrant among its founders, immigration reform should strengthen the economy, according to Tino Mantella, the president of the Technology Association of Georgia.
“If there’s an argument that immigrants take American jobs, I think the reverse is true,” he said.
The coalition released a survey showing two out of three likely voters questioned agreed with a 65-word statement of the group’s stance. Thirty percent expressed some level of opposition and 8 percent weren’t
“Would you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that secures our borders, expands visas for high-skill workers and farm workers, provides an employer verification program, allows young persons brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents an opportunity to earn citizenship, and provides visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes?”
But pollster Matt Towery, the president of InsiderAdvantage, cautions not to put too much stock into the responses.
“This type of broad language is sort of like a net designed to catch all fish. The problem is that voters don’t make such mental gymnastics in determining how they feel about an issue,” he said. “I think a more straightforward question might yield less favorable results, although I will say that in past surveys Georgians have been a bit more open to immigration reform than many might suspect.”
Phil Kent, a member of the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board, dismissed the poll results completely.
“This is one of the most convoluted polling questions I’ve seen in a while,” he said. “...They’re trying to shoehorn support for amnesty by clever wording of this question.”
Meanwhile, the candidates for the U.S. Senate didn’t let the poll change their position. Republicans David Perdue and Jack Kingston say the flow of undocumented immigrants must be stopped before there is any consideration of relaxing the rules.
“Enforce the law. Secure the border. No amnesty,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said.
Libertarian nominee Amanda Swafford also blames Obama but holds a slightly different view on how to solve the bigger issue of immigration.
“In concert with stripping all entitlement-based incentives to current illegal immigration, I would subsequently remove incentives that prop up and support the exploitation of the ‘Coyote’ industry,” she said.
However, Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn does favor allowing law-abiding immigrants to become citizens.
“We need comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and provides an accountable pathway to citizenship that requires those currently living here go to the back of the line, pass a background check, learn English and pay back taxes,” she said. “Fixing our broken immigration will both create jobs and cut our deficit.”