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By Willoughby Mariano February 16, 2011

Libertarians claim get-tough immigration bill will 'bankrupt' Georgia

The war of words on immigration has grown high-pitched, and a recent warning from Georgia Libertarians is no exception.

"The Libertarian Party of Georgia Says Immigration Bill Will Bankrupt Georgia," began a news release condemning the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011," or House Bill 87, which broadens the role state and local government play policing illegal immigration.

The cost to enforce it would be "huge," the release said. Its economic effects "catastrophic."

Would it?

State Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Republican from Peachtree City, is lead sponsor of the wide-ranging legislation. It would allow legal residents to sue if they think an agency is not adequately enforcing state immigration law; ban transporting, harboring or enticing an illegal immigrant to enter the state; authorize an officer to check a suspect’s legal status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that he is here illegally; and require businesses with more than five employees to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their workers are legal residents.

Some portions resemble Arizona’s HB 1070, which critics say encourages racial profiling and infringes on federal authority. The U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups are suing Arizona over the 2010 legislation, and major cities and organizations boycotted the state.  

We asked Brett Bittner, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, for evidence to back his claim about Georgia’s legislation. He did not have specific costs but said Ramsey’s bill "grows the size of government."

Lawsuits challenging its constitutionality could be costly, Bittner said. Plus, the provision that would allow individuals to sue agencies over enforcement could spawn frivolous suits.

"We’re not sure of the costs, and Representative Ramsey hasn’t provided any of the costs," Bittner said.

Indeed, Ramsey didn’t have an estimate. So PolitiFact Georgia dug up cost estimates for Arizona and states considering similar legislation and looked at an existing program for guidance.  

We found that estimates are extremely limited. Arizona’s costs for certain HB 1070 provisions are unknown because a federal judge temporarily blocked their implementation.

We also found that the impact is so complex that it is difficult to predict.

For instance, if illegal immigrants and their families leave Georgia because of the legislation, state government would no longer have to subsidize their children’s health care or education, advocates for lower immigration levels noted.  

But illegal immigrants would no longer buy goods or services or work here, which could lower tax revenue and weaken the economy, critics of the legislation told PolitiFact.

Most research, though limited, concludes tax revenue generated by all immigrants exceeds the cost of the services they use, the Congressional Budget Office said in 2007.

HB 87 could save money. Gwinnett County is part of the federal 287(g) program, which allows state or local law enforcement agencies to enforce certain immigration laws. Its sheriff said this program lowered its foreign-born jail population in its first year, saving between $386,010 and $2.1 million. Program staffing cost $1.2 million.

A January study on 287(g) said those local costs shift to the federal government.  

If one cost is almost certain, it’s legal bills.

Arizona’s total is $1.5 million as of early this month, and its governor is using donations to pay them. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia plans to sue if HB 87 passes as written.

Another potential cost is from lost convention business from boycotts. Roughly three months after HB 1070’s passage, Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association said at least 40 group meetings were canceled, costing $12 million in revenue, excluding restaurant, retailer or rental car company losses. The progressive Center for American Progress estimated a total loss of about $141 million. This translates to $9.4 million in lost tax revenue.   

Estimates by other states for their own Arizona-style legislation also hint at potential Georgia costs.

The Kentucky Legislature is considering a bill that could cost $40 million a year despite savings on services for illegal immigrants who leave. A Utah bill could cost local governments between $5.3 million and $11.3 million yearly.

Ramsey argued that those bills are so different their estimates may not apply to HB 87. Indeed, Kentucky’s bill, unlike HB 87, makes crossing state lines as an illegal immigrant a crime. Arrests, and therefore costs, could be higher.

Still, Georgia’s bill contains provisions that on their face appear pricey. The provision that would allow local law enforcement agencies to check immigration status would likely cost money to transport illegal immigrants to federal facilities and train officers.

The bill would let residents sue state and local agencies for inadequate enforcement, which could result in big legal bills. Ramsey said he is revising the bill to address this.

To sum up:

While there’s no evidence to show the legislation would have "huge" and "catastrophic" effects, there is enough to be concerned that HB 87 could have significant costs. Whether the bill would save money down the road is unclear.

Regardless, Georgia’s budget is about $18 billion. And while the potential costs could strain the state’s already tight budget, it’s extremely unlikely they would bankrupt the state.

Georgia Libertarians’ alarmist statement that the bill "will bankrupt Georgia" is therefore False.

Our Sources

Libertarian Party of Georgia, news release, "The Libertarian Party of Georgia Says Immigration Bill Will Bankrupt Georgia," Jan. 31, 2010

Georgia General Assembly, HB 87, accessed Feb. 8, 2011

The Arizona Republic, "Arizona immigration law costs and savings," July 11, 2010,

The Arizona Republic, "Who is boycotting Arizona?", Aug. 27, 2010

The Arizona Republic, "Arizona taking up fight to limit federal authority," Feb. 4, 2011

Phoenix Business Journal, "Arizona businesses look for signs SB 1070 immigration law boycotts losing steam," Oct. 4, 2010

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Gwinnett program results in 1,400 deportations," Dec. 10, 2010

National Conference of State Legislatures, "Arizona’s Immigration Enforcement Laws," accessed Feb. 8, 2011

The Salt Lake Tribune, "Immigration bill carries big price tag," Feb. 8, 2011

Center for American Progress, "Stop the Conference," November 2010

Lexington Herald-Leader, "Immigration bill would cost state $40 million a year," Jan. 14, 2011

Kentucky Legislature, SB 6, accessed Feb. 9, 2011

Utah Legislature, HB 70, accessed Feb. 9, 2011, "Net cost of bill to crack down on illegal immigrants could be $39 million," Jan. 14, 2011

Migration Policy Institute, "Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287(g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement," January 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Immigration bill's sponsor revising it with eye on courts," Feb. 4, 2011

Congressional Budget Office, "The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of
State and Local Governments," December 2007

Interview, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, Feb. 7, 2011

Interview, Brett Bittner, executive director, Libertarian Party of Georgia, Feb. 1, 2011

Interview, Jack Martin, director of special projects, Federation for American Immigration Reform, Feb. 8 2011

Interview, Steve Camarota, director of research, Center for Immigration Studies, Feb. 8, 2011

Interview, Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy, Center for American Progress, Feb. 8, 2011

Interview, Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Feb. 15, 2011

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