Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
The Mexican Consulate General in Atlanta is available to help determine the authenticity of passports and other Mexican documents for the new Georgia SecureID program, a state effort to curb the use of fraudulent documents to obtain state identification cards and driver’s licenses, said Consul General Remedios Gomez-Arnau.

The new program announced by Gov. Sonny Perdue on Sept. 6, is to place Georgia Department of Driver Services investigators in the 10 highest-need Driver Services Customer Service Centers throughout the state to crack down on the use of fraudulent documents.

Dr. Gomez-Arnau told GlobalAtlanta that she is concerned officers assigned to inspect documents may not have sufficient training to verify their authenticity.

“First, the Mexican consulate is very respectful of any regulations approved by the state of Georgia, and we believe it is right to enforce the law,” Dr. Gomez-Arnau said. “But I am concerned officers may not have enough expertise to identify the authenticity of every foreign document.”

“We invite authorities to obtain information from the consulate about Mexican passports and other official Mexican documents,” she added.

She said the problem with the SecureID program is that it perpetuates the perception that all immigrants are illegal. A recent poll of 803 Georgians by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia in June showed that one-third of Georgians believe new immigrants to the state are illegal.

Georgia’s economy needs immigrants’ labor, however, Dr. Gomez-Arnau said. “If the labor market requires a certain number of foreign workers, they should be given the proper documents to be here legally,” she said.

Georgia companies do need immigrant workers, agreed Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of GALEO, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, but they should be concerned about the Secure ID program.

“The Georgia business community should be alarmed by this. It is further fanning the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment and sending a message that Georgia is not a friendly state. Employers will be pressed to find good workers because good workers are going to move their families to other states,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

“We will be wasting $1 million of state funds to tackle a non-existent problem. The only reason people get fraudulent documents is to obtain employment,” he told GlobalAtlanta. The Secure ID program is to cost $1 million of the state’s fiscal year 2007 amended or FY2008 budget cycle.

Immigrants in the United States do use fraudulent documents for purposes of employment, Mr. Gonzalez said, noting that the Internal Revenue Service documented some $6 billion in collected taxes in 2002 that were attributed to duplicate or fraudulent Social Security numbers. Those funds cannot be paid out to workers because their true identities are not known.

But undocumented immigrants try to get state IDs simply to work, not to vote, Mr. Gonzalez added. Only one in 10 immigrants that GALEO has encountered in its Georgia Latino Vote 2006 campaign have been eligible to vote. “They know they are not citizens, so they don’t try to vote,” he said.

To obtain a Georgia driver’s license or state ID, one must show a Social Security card, photo ID and birth certificate or immigration documents stating he or she is legally in the U.S.

Currently, Department of Drivers’ Services records show that illegal immigrants in Georgia are attempting to get valid state IDs using false documents. Of the 854 total fraud cases at Georgia DDS offices in 2005, 756 of them, or 88 percent, involved either a non-U.S. citizen or fraudulent foreign documentation, according to DDS Public Information Officer Susan Sports.

“We believe there is a need to train more examiners to identify fake documents because there is a lot more fraud to catch in this state,” she told GlobalAtlanta.

Companies should be concerned about fraud, about securing U.S. borders and about coming up with solutions that meet the economic needs of Georgia, especially in the fields of farming, construction, poultry and textiles, Mr. Gonzalez said.

Comprehensive immigration reform, not policing driver’s license offices, however, is the only way to do this, he said. Effective reform, according to Mr. Gonzalez, would simultaneously address undocumented workers in the U.S. and the future flow of workers and their families.

It would include a path to citizenship for immigrants currently working in the U.S. who have undergone extensive background checks, provide for the protection of workers from exploitative employment situations, the reuniting of immigrant families, fair enforcement of immigration laws, a crack down on smugglers and exploitative employers and support systems for new immigrants, including English language instruction.

Contact the Mexican Consulate General at (404) 266-2233. Contact Mr. Gonzalez at (404) 745-2580. Contact Ms. Sports at (678) 413-8657. Contact the governor’s office at (404) 656-1776.

The Latin American Association in Atlanta issued an official statement about the implications of the SecureID program. (see statement below)

The Mexican American Business Chamber also issued a statement about the new program.
(see statement below)

LAA Statement on Governor Perdue’s SecureID Initiative

Atlanta, GA – September 14, 2006 The Latin American Association recognizes the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the challenge of local enforcement under the current immigration system. The Latin American Association has supported a federal approach to legislation since debate began two years ago and continues to hope for a national resolution to the immigration problem. However, in the absence of a commitment from our political leaders at the national level to address this issue in all its ramifications, we are witnessing a plethora of improvisations at the state and local levels throughout the country.

Not surprisingly, the target for most of these initiatives is the Hispanic immigrant community throughout the country. Moreover, the state level focus is on enforcement, an activity that does not address the underlying problems with our broken immigration system, which daily affect our community. The immigration process is extremely complex and processing generally demands a wait of several years; but more importantly, there is currently no viable path for millions of immigrants to resolve their migratory status. Many in our community are living in an official limbo due the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of the system for processing visa and citizenship applications because the US Congress is stalled on this issue.

In these circumstances, Georgia’s residents have seen an increasingly hostile environment, including public statements that unfairly promote false ideas and unsubstantiated generalities about an entire population of our state. The Latin American Association believes that the comments made by Governor Purdue appear to have exactly this effect, depicting Hispanics as conspirators in defrauding the State of Georgia and manipulating its politics. Governor Perdue’s statement that the undocumented population is heading for the welfare office after fraudulently obtaining a license at the Department of Driver Services is untrue and offensive to all Latinos in Georgia.

Statements such as the one issued last week by the Governor’s office about the SecureID Initiative further elevate an already heightened climate of suspicion and fear around Latino immigrants and raise the risk of racial profiling. Linking undocumented immigrant workers in Georgia to terrorism is inappropriate and unfair to those who have contributed so much to Georgia’s thriving economy. We believe that priority should instead be given to the creation of a realistic path to citizenship, so that immigrants can fully participate as contributing members of society, and the State can reap the benefits of allowing full participation.

The governor should exercise his leadership to demand action from our U.S. Congress where accountability is overdue, and the issue of immigration should be urgently addressed. The governor’s office should not place itself and state officials further into the role of federal immigration law enforcement.

Latin American Association
Mariana Pinango
Communications and Public Relations Manager
email: mpinango@latinamericanassoc.org
Phone: (404) 638-1821