ATLANTA - Latino and black civil rights activists came together Monday to chastise Gov. Sonny Perdue and call for an apology for recent statements the governor made regarding a crackdown on illegal immigrants in the state.
The coalition of grass-roots leaders, labor union representatives and Democratic lawmakers took exception to Mr. Perdue's comments last week while introducing an initiative targeting people who use fake documents to get driver's licenses or state identification cards.
"It is simply unacceptable for people to sneak into this country illegally on Thursday, obtain a government-issued ID on Friday, head for the welfare office on Monday and cast a vote on Tuesday," Mr. Perdue stated at the time, while pointing out other get-tough measures the state has attempted to address illegal immigrants.
Teodoro Maus, the former Mexican consul general in Atlanta who has organized immigrants' rights marches this year, said Mr. Perdue should not be politicizing illegal immigration as part of election-year campaigning.
"It is a message of untruths and presents a false, deformed picture of the immigration issue," Mr. Maus read from an open letter he and other groups presented to Mr. Perdue's office. "This is a situation being exploited to generate fear and hatred towards the Latino and immigrant community by candidates who hope to use hard-working, God-fearing, honest, but vulnerable persons as scapegoats ... to ride to electoral victory."
Speakers said they are organizing a protest march for Sept. 30.
Mr. Perdue, speaking at a news conference later in the day, said he would not take back any of his recent statements.
"I won't apologize for criminal activity," he said. "We just cannot condone those coming illegally."
The debate has been fodder for national politicians as well, though it appears more uncertain Congress will pass any reform bill before the November elections.
Civil rights activists who met Monday inside the state Capitol also called for federal agents to stop conducting any more sweeps of undocumented workers in the state until a national reform measure is passed.
News accounts of more than 100 illegal workers being taken into custody and rumors of more checks have spread among immigrant communities, said Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
"The word-of-mouth out there is that Georgia is not a welcoming state," he said.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed an illegal-immigration bill to make it tougher for employers to hire undocumented workers and for illegal immigrants to get most state-funded benefits.
When the bill started being debated, anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King criticized Mr. Perdue for not taking more of a public stance on the issue.
On Monday, Mr. King, who watched the news conference at the state Capitol, came to Mr. Perdue's defense, however.
"Those of us who study this issue (think) that the root problem is fraudulent documents," said Mr. King, the president of The Dustin Inman Society. "The governor has simply shown the courage and the great leadership to attack the problem at its base. This group of very far-left, very open-borders, race-baiters here should be ashamed of themselves for attacking anybody who is simply trying to enforce the law."