A powerful new panel aimed at helping curb illegal immigration in Georgia has yet to hold its first meeting but it is already attracting controversy.
The Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday called on Gov. Nathan Deal to reconsider his decision to appoint anti-illegal immigration activist Phil Kent to the panel, saying Kent has a history of making “deeply disturbing" comments about immigrants. During in an interview on Wednesday, the head of Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus also blasted the panel for not being more diverse. All seven of its members are white men.
Kent dismissed the ADL’s criticism, calling the organization a “left wing group.” A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the ADL’s request concerning Kent but said the board’s members include people with different professions and viewpoints.
The Immigration Enforcement Review Board is expected to hold 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 ADL filed court papers in June in support of efforts to halt that law. Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, named their appointments to the panel Friday.
Among the three men Deal appointed to the board is Kent, the national spokesman of Americans for Immigration Control, which supports strict enforcement of immigration laws. In a letter to Deal on Wednesday, the ADL pointed to columns Kent wrote on his website (philkent.com) about America becoming more multicultural.
In one column regarding estimates that minorities could overtake the white population by 2050, Kent wrote: “What will be the values and ideas of a multicultural America? What will it mean to be white after ‘whiteness’ no longer defines the cultural mainstream?” Kent also predicted “many whites ‘will flee into whiteness.’ They will move to where other fair-skinned brethren are to retain their identity -- nostalgically yearning for an American authenticity where everyone speaks English.”
The ADL pointed to another column Kent wrote that quotes Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, saying, “Those in Congress and in the administration who have failed to fix our broken border have allowed the influx of 595,000 violent criminal aliens now threatening our cities, suburbs and even rural communities that are seeing the effects of the Mexican cartel-driven drug trade.”
“Mr. Kent’s fixation with maintaining white culture is deeply disturbing and his resort to fear-mongering about undocumented residents is equally abhorrent,” Bill Nigut, the ADL’s southeast regional director, wrote in his letter to Deal.
Kent on Wednesday said the ADL "opposed Georgia’s new immigration control law. They don’t like the law’s compliance panel. And they don’t like me."
“I make no apologies for my work over the years to try to have strict enforcement of immigration laws,” Kent added.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat from Decatur and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, criticized the lack of minorities on Kent's panel.
“That's not Georgia. Georgia isn't comprised of all white men," Jones said of the panel's membership. “If the governor is concerned about true immigration reform, he would have appointed some Latinos to that panel so it would have divergent viewpoints instead of [being] one-sided."
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the governor, said the members include people from different backgrounds. Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager, Dallas, Ga., Mayor Boyd Austin, Colquitt County Commissioner Terry Clark, Atlanta attorney Ben Vinson, former state legislator Robert Mumford and Shawn Hanley, former candidate for the state GOP chairmanship, have been appointed.
"It was important that we appoint advocates for the law because we need people who want to enforce it," Robinson said. "It would make no sense to appoint people who hate the law and want to undermine it.”