Panel looks into first immigration-related complaint

A powerful state investigative panel aimed at cracking down on state and local officials who fail to enforce Georgia’s anti-illegal immigration laws decided Friday to pursue its first complaint, which has been filed against the city of Atlanta.

Ben Vinson, chairman of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, said he would send a letter to the city with a copy of the complaint and give Atlanta 15 days to respond. Filed by anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King in February, the complaint says a city ordinance violates a new state immigration enforcement law by allowing people to use Mexican matricula consular ID cards in city government transactions. New Georgia law says city officials may not accept such ID cards when people apply for public benefits.

King is president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society, which advocates enforcement of U.S. immigration and employment laws.

A city spokesman said Friday that city employees "who handle public benefits have been trained on what is an acceptable form of ID and the matricula consular, is not one of them." The matricula consular card is issued to Mexican nationals by the Mexican government through its consulate offices and is not related to the holder's immigration status.

Vinson’s seven-member panel has the power to investigate complaints filed against city, county and state officials, hold hearings, subpoena documents, adopt regulations and hand out punishment. That punishment could include loss of state funding for government agencies and fines up to $5,000 for officials who "knowingly" violate the laws.

Also Friday, the board voted unanimously to make Shawn Hanley its vice chairman. An Atlanta businessman, Hanley is a former candidate for state GOP chairman.

The board stems from HB 87, much of which went into effect July 1. Last year, Atlanta’s City Council called on Gov. Nathan Deal to not sign the legislation. Council members expressed concerns that conventions and organizations may boycott Georgia and specifically Atlanta, which has a strong tourist-based economy.

Deal signed the measure into law in May. The panel’s members were appointed by Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, all Republicans.

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