While the Canadian government has yet to release an official statement about the detention of a Canadian national in Brunswick on April 10 for minor traffic violations, state officials do not foresee any sustained negative consequences for Georgia attracting future Canadian tourists and businesses.
Immigrant advocates in Georgia, however, are voicing concerns that the incident will discourage international companies from locating in the state.
Canadian tourist Cheryl Kuehn, a 23-year-old graduate student, was arrested and spent 11 hours in Glynn County Detention Center for minor traffic violations while driving to Florida for vacation, even though she was carrying a valid Canadian passport. Her detention was reportedly the result of a routine check the Glynn County jail does against the federal Law Enforcement Support Center database to identify individuals wanted for immigration violations.
Dan Rowe, tourism commissioner with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, told GlobalAtlanta in a statement that the state believes the Kuehn case was an isolated incident and will not affect Georgia’s business or tourism relationship with Canada.
“We have an ongoing commitment to extending our friendship and hospitality to every citizen of Canada — that has never changed and never will,” Mr. Rowe said, noting that Georgia has been reaching out to Canadian “snowbird” tourists who come to the South during the winter season.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, an immigrant advocacy group, however, expressed concern that other foreign nationals conducting business in Georgia or visiting here could be adversely affected by immigration checks of the type undergone by Ms. Kuehn.
He issued a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue raising fears that reaction to Senate Bill 529, which requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of felony or driving-under-the-influence offenders – which Ms. Kuehn was not – could discourage foreign businesses from investing in Georgia.
He requested that the Canadian case be resolved as soon as possible “because our state’s international image and economic interests are at stake.”
As a result of the incident, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department could amend its online travel information to warn its citizens traveling abroad about Georgia’s strict laws on detaining non-U.S. citizens, spokesperson Alain Cacchione told GlobalAtlanta in a phone interview from his office in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.
A Canadian Foreign Affairs Web site posts travel reports for Canadians traveling abroad, and the report for the United States could be updated to include information about the Georgia incident. The reports provide information about local laws “so Canadians traveling can know what to do and what not to do,” Mr. Cacchione said.
But since Ms. Kuehn did not contact a Canadian consular office at the time of her arrest, the Canadian government cannot officially comment until the investigation is complete, he said. As a result, the Canadian government’s involvement has been limited, but it has been monitoring the case and communicating with Georgia officials, Mr. Cacchione said.
A Glynn County officer has since been fired and two others temporarily suspended over the incident.
The Kuehns announced in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that they did not agree with the dismissal of the Glynn County officer, but they did offer suggestions for Georgia state policy to prevent similar incidents in the future, including implementing 24-hour services at police stations where out-of-state traffic violators could drive to pay fines in lieu of going to jail.
The couple also suggested that persons with valid passports not be detained for immigration checks, that Georgia law enforcement officers be better trained to treat foreign nationals with respect and that health requirements for detention facilities be reevaluated.
Kuehn’s letter to the Ottawa newspaper.
Mr. Rowe denied the Kuehns’ belief that the incident was connected to the SB529 law and said that Georgia continues to strive to be a welcoming tourist destination for Canadians. The state has special Visitor Information Center initiatives in place for Canadian tourists and is working with various Canadian travel organizations, he said.
In terms of business, Georgia has had a trade presence in Canada since 1979, and the country is a focus of Mr. Perdue’s Global Georgia initiative and of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s business development team.
Georgia exported $55.6 million in goods and services from Canada and imported $14.6 million from Canada in 2006. Canada is Georgia’s largest trading partner.
Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Canadian Foreign Affairs Office – (613) 944-4000
Canadian Government Travel Reports
Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials – (404) 745-2580
Georgia Department of Economic Development – (404) 962-4078