Originally created 02/27/06

Activists focus on immigration



ATLANTA - More than seven years ago, a Mexican family moved in across the street from the Marietta home of D.A. King, the man who has come to personify the fight for immigration control in Georgia.

While Mr. King says he had hoped to become friends with his neighbors and even swap recipes, he soon became annoyed by the rusty cars in his neighbor's driveway, the many people regularly visiting the home, the contractors who came to pick some of them up for work on mornings.

YEARS LATER, AFTER A climactic argument over Christmas lights - still outside the Mexicans' house on Valentine's Day - Mr. King tried to report the family to federal immigration officials, suspecting that the breadwinner was in the U.S. legally but that at least some of the people staying with him might not be.

Despite leaving messages 15 times on the agency's automated phone system, Mr. King never heard back from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"I truly believed my government was going to come on the double because there were people living in my country illegally," he said.

So began Mr. King's quest to end illegal immigration, have the military guard the nation's borders and prevent workers without visas from getting jobs, thus achieving his ultimate goal - the "self-deportation" of millions of people illegally in the United States, whom Mr. King sees as a burden and threat to the country's survival.

"We're being invaded and colonized as a nation," he said. "It's national suicide."

Activists like Mr. King are more aggressive and abrasive than professional, well-funded national lobbies such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has 70,000 members, and the 40,000-member Americans for Immigration Control.

But they make the same point, that U.S. citizens are ready to take the fight into their own hands, the groups and scholars say.

Giving up his savings and a longtime job as an insurance agent, the 53-year-old Mr. King has become ubiquitous both at rallies held by immigrant rights groups and at the state Capitol, where he supports measures aimed at deterring illegal immigrants from staying in Georgia.

MR. KING'S FIGHT MIRRORS that of Kathy McKee, the Arizona woman who led the push to require people to produce proof of citizenship when registering to vote and proof of immigration status when obtaining government services, making those who fail to report people who illegally apply for aid liable to fines and jail time. The measure, known as Proposition 200, was approved by Arizona voters in 2004.

While it's unclear whether undocumented immigrants pay enough in taxes to cover the few state services they can use, such as emergency health care and K-12 education, or even how much those services cost, the assumption that illegal immigrants get more out of U.S. coffers than Americans drives Mr. King and Ms McKee, they said.

Their solution? To "demagnetize the magnets," in the words of Americans for Immigration Control spokesman Phil Kent, a former Augusta Chronicle editorial page editor who now lives in Atlanta. That means no guest worker programs, no automatic citizenship to U.S.-born babies and clamping down on employers and public services.

"THE BEST SOLUTION IS to send them home," said Dan Stein, the director of Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Raising the risk level gets them to go home."

The Georgia House recently passed the first measure dealing with illegal immigration, which would tack a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from all those who cannot prove they are legally in the United States.

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, has introduced a proposal that would deny state benefits to adults who can't prove they're in the country legally, require law enforcement to check the immigration status of those they arrest and prevent employers from declaring pay for illegal immigrants as a business expense on their taxes.

Mr. Stein said his group helps write legislation that can withstand legal challenges, though he wouldn't confirm that he was involved with Mr. Rogers' proposal. Mr. King said seeing it become law would make him feel "accomplished."