Pressure is mounting on Gov. Nathan Deal to remove anti-illegal immigration activist Phil Kent from a newly created board aimed at helping enforce Georgia’s immigration laws.
Kent’s critics have started a petition drive to oust him from the Immigration Enforcement Review Board. Started by Steve Golden of the Young Democrats of Georgia, the petition calls Kent a “nativist” who uses “intense racist imagery to convey his terrible beliefs.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had attracted more than 1,800 signatures. Golden said he plans to present them to Deal. A spokesman for Deal declined to comment Thursday. Kent dismissed the petition as a “fundraising tool” for one of his other critics, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which he calls a “radical left-wing group.”
Kent’s board has been attracting controversy since last Friday, when Deal announced Kent and the other six men who have been appointed to serve on the panel. That same day, the SPLC condemned Kent’s appointment. The SPLC has long labeled the organization for which Kent is the national spokesman – Americans for Immigration Control – a hate group.
And on Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League wrote Deal, asking him to reconsider Kent's appointment, saying he has a history of making "deeply disturbing" comments about immigrants. The head of Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus criticized the panel for not being more diverse. All seven of its members are white men.
The board is expected to have its first meeting and adopt its procedures before Oct. 1. It will have the power to investigate complaints that city, county and state officials are violating state immigration enforcement laws, hold hearings, subpoena documents, adopt regulations and hand out punishment. The panel stems from Georgia's new immigration enforcement law (House Bill 87), much of which went into effect July 1.
The SPLC is part of a group of civil and immigrant rights organizations suing in federal court to halt that law. The ADL filed court papers in June to support those efforts to block the law. Golden said he also opposes the law, calling it unconstitutional.
“We want to bring the truth to light and hopefully maybe that will cause Mr. Kent to be replaced by somebody else,” said Golden, executive vice president of the Young Democrats of Georgia.
Kent said the petition is a tool for the SPLC.
“The whole thing is just to gain publicity and to attack their enemies, so it is not surprising,” Kent said.
Golden said he did the petition on his own and not for the SPLC.
Kent is a former press secretary to the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and the president of Phil Kent Consulting Inc., an Atlanta-based public relations and media company.
This week, Kent's critics have been singling out columns he wrote about multiculturalism, refugees and “whiteness.”
In one column he wrote for Immigration Watch’s December 2004/January 2005 edition, Kent criticizes the federal government’s decision to resettle Somali refugees in the United States.
“Why must the soft-headed State Department and federal Office of Refugee Resettlement continue pushing to resettle primitive peoples -- a gross disservice to both them and the dozens of U.S. urban areas being impacted?” Kent wrote, according to a copy of the column obtained by the SPLC. “But beyond that they don’t comprehend how modern appliances -- ranging from washing machines to automobiles -- operate.”
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