Board dismisses complaint that Vidalia harbors illegal immigrants

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ATLANTA — A state panel that oversees enforcement of Georgia’s immigration laws on Thursday dismissed a complaint that the city of Vidalia is harboring illegal workers. It also formed a subcommittee to look into another complaint and put off action on two others.

The state Immigration Enforcement Review Board had appointed a subcommittee in June to look into accusations by Michael Dale Smith of Twin City that officials in Vidalia – home to Georgia’s famous sweet onion crop – were giving illegal immigrants safe harbor by allowing them to work and live in the city limits. City officials had denied his allegations, and review board member Phil Kent said at Thursday’s meeting that the subcommittee “didn’t find anything actionable.”

The board also discussed whether or not to take up three complaints filed in July by anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King and ultimately decided to form a subcommittee to keep track of progress on one complaint and decided to delay action on the other two.

A three-member subcommittee was formed to gather information about King’s complaint that alleges the Department of Community Affairs is not complying with its obligation under state law to collect specific information from government agencies that administer public benefits and to compile that information in a report by Jan. 1 of each year.

Commissioner Mike Beatty said the department is trying to educate all the agencies and hopes to have full compliance as soon as possible.

“There was not widespread knowledge (at the department) that something was going on that wasn’t supposed to be going on,” he said, later adding, “If we messed it up, we messed it up trying to do what we thought was right.”

King’s other two complaints each list multiple agencies – one includes a list of more than 1,200 – that he says are not complying with parts of state law.

Beatty and a representative from the Department of Audits and Accounts both addressed the board, saying they are trying to make sure all the agencies that are supposed to report to them are following the rules and that they are working to compile lists of agencies who fail to comply that could be provided to the board.

Board chairman Ben Vinson said he decided to delay action on the two complaints in part because there are simply too many agencies named in the complaints.

“I just don’t think those two complaints can be converted into an actionable case at this point,” he said, adding that he’d rather wait to see a list of agencies that fail to comply after additional efforts by the two state departments involved.

King told the board he plans to ask the state attorney general’s office to use its power to enforce state law since he doesn’t believe the board is fulfilling its responsibility to make sure the laws are followed.

“Nothing here demonstrated a will from the majority of the board to protect jobs for Georgians,” he said after the meeting.

The review board was created by last year’s law targeting illegal immigration. The seven-person panel has the power to investigate complaints, hold hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses and take disciplinary action.


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