The Jolt: Doug Collins calls for federal probe into allegations of an illegal South Korean workforce

SK Innovation has announced an expansion of the massive plant to build automotive batteries at it’s site on I-85 north of Atlanta. The first phase is not yet completed.Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
SK Innovation has announced an expansion of the massive plant to build automotive batteries at it’s site on I-85 north of Atlanta. The first phase is not yet completed.Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins announced that he has asked two federal agencies to investigate a May incident in which a plane-load of illegal South Korean workers was intercepted.

The workers were apparently headed for the Jackson County site of a battery manufacturer that has received $300 million in tax abatements and other incentives. From Collins’ letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

I am writing to you today in regard to an incident that recently occurred at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, which suggests there may be an ongoing effort to illegally employ foreign nationals in my home state of Georgia.

As you know, on May 29, 2020, CBP indicated it had intercepted 33 Korean nationals at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport who were attempting to enter the United States with fraudulent work authorizations.

It is my understanding that CBP determined that this was not an isolated incident, and that these Korean nationals were part of a larger scheme to illegally bring foreign workers into the United States.

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The letter was sent the same day that a piece by Randy Travis over at WAGA-TV in Atlanta hit the airwaves, describing a construction workforce that was almost entirely South Korean. From the station’s website:

Korean-owned SK Innovation chose Georgia after receiving one of the biggest tax relief packages our state has ever awarded: around $300 million in tax abatements and grants.

Jackson County donated the land for the plant. SK Battery America is a subsidiary of SKI.

When it’s finished in 2022, SK Battery America promised 2,600 people will eventually be hired to build batteries for electric cars.

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Collins’ letter was also sent on the same day that Jobs and Progress Fund, an Ohio-based dark money group, ran a full-page ad in the AJC that invoked the name of Collins, a candidate for U.S. Senate.

The ad noted that in a pair of federal lawsuits, SKI has been accused by a rival battery manufacturer, LG Chem, of stealing its trade secrets. The U.S. International Trade Commission is involved. Then there was this:

To legal scholars, the most interesting of these third-party advocates is the case of Georgia Republican Doug Collins, who introduced the 2016 law that created a uniform federal standard for trade secret misappropriation.

Despite championing the Defend Trade Secrets Act, Collins has urged the [ITC] to overlook SKI’s trade secret misappropriation because of the economic activity the theft will facilitate in Georgia.

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Last night, WSB-TV had a follow on contracting problems at the battery plant.

Updated: In a statement, SK Battery America put the blame for the May incident at the airport on an unnamed contractor:

“After becoming aware of an issue in May through U.S. authorities, SK Battery America has repeatedly stressed to our contractors that U.S. hiring regulations must be followed and continues to insist on strict adherence to these laws by on-site management. We have cooperated fully with U.S. authorities to provide our support in resolving any issues.”

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The company also said that “more than 1,000 U.S. citizens have been hired as part of the construction process of the $2.5 billion EV battery site.”

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If you couldn’t stay awake to finish out the fourth night of a virtual Democratic National Convention, we’ve got you covered:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden closed out the carefully scripted, virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention on Thursday, achieving a pinnacle in an unfinished quest that has spanned three decades and been marred by personal tragedy and political stumbles.

“Here and now I give you my word, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst,” Biden declared. “I’ll be an ally of the light, not our darkness. And make no mistake, we’ll overcome this season of darkness in America.”

Biden delivered his acceptance speech before a mostly empty auditorium near his Delaware home, vowing that on the first day of his presidency, he would implement “a national mandate to wear a mask.

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An interesting tidbit: A media buyer tells us Joe Biden’s campaign has recently reserved at least $300,000 in ads in Georgia for the final stretch of the race - Oct. 6 to election eve.

It suggests the Democratic nominee, who recently launched his first TV ads in Georgia, plans to compete in Georgia until the end of the race.

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In a related note, the Republican National Committee transferred about $1.6 million to the Georgia GOP in July, according to recent financial filings.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is reversing its decision to change to the way hospitals report coronavirus information to the federal government, “returning the responsibility for data collection to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

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Charlie Hayslett, who tracks rural Georgia demographics on his Trouble in God’s Country blog, has an interesting follow on the AJC’s report on the state of the pandemic in Georgia, drawn from a leaked White House task force report:

Some 146 of Georgia’s 159 counties posted case rates of more than 100 — roughly the national average, based on the AJC’s reporting — for the August 7-August 14 period. But there’s a wide span within that group.

For that week, Appling County, located in deep southeast Georgia and home to fewer than 20,000 people, posted the most horrific numbers: a one-week case rate of 728.8. But it was hardly alone in that region. Indeed, one of the things the Covid-19 data suggests is that the bug acts and moves on what appears to be a regional basis.

[Thirty-seven counties have] posted case rates of at least 300 per 100,000 people from August 7 through August 14…Twenty-four of those counties make up an inter-connected chain of counties that now runs well over 200 miles from Lincoln County on the north end south to Clinch County on the Florida line.

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As usual, Haylett lets maps do much of the talking. Check it out.

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Republican incumbent Karen Handel at her election watch party early Wednesday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Republican incumbent Karen Handel at her election watch party early Wednesday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Karen Handel isn’t ready to roll out the welcome mat for Marjorie Taylor Greene. Unlike other Republicans who were previously critical of Greene but changed their tone after her runoff victory, Handel said her views haven’t changed about her controversial potential colleague.

However, Handel said, don’t expect her to spend a lot of time speaking out about Greene. She is in a battle of her own to retake her seat from U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

“I’ve had a lot to say about that. I think that my positions there are clear,” she told us this week. “My values do not align with hers. But this race is Georgia Sixth. That’s Georgia 14, and my focus is on defeating Lucy McBath.”

Prior to the runoff, Handel said Greene’s racist and xenophobic views were “abhorrent” and had no place in politics. Other Republicans who made similar statements have either been silent or less critical since Greene’s Aug. 11 victory, which makes her all but certain to win a seat in Congress.

Some of them may be more worried about becoming a target of Greene, who often attack critics on social media, or President Trump, who recently called her a “future Republican star.”

Handel’s calculus is a little different. She still needs to appeal to moderate voters if she wants to win back her seat in the swing, suburban Atlanta district.

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Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic nominee in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, talks with volunteers at her Suwanee headquarters Saturday, August 8, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic nominee in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, talks with volunteers at her Suwanee headquarters Saturday, August 8, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

A rescue mission? Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux’s campaign blasted the Club for Growth after it placed a roughly $900,000 ad buy in metro Atlanta for Rich McCormick’s Seventhth District bid.

Bordeaux’s campaign mocked the conservative group for spending about three times more than McCormick on his campaign. Shelbi Dantic, Bourdeaux’s campaign manager, accused the Republican of being fueled by “special interest PACs.”

“The reason McCormick even made it this far is because he was carried across his primary finish line on the backs of special interest groups like Club for Growth,” she said. “But it won’t help him earn the trust of Georgia voters at the ballot box this November.”

McCormick spokesman John Simpson jabbed back, pointing to Mike Bloomberg’s support for her bid in 2018 and polls that show a tight race.

“Her campaign is stuck in a ditch and spinning its wheels so all she can do is sling mud,” said Simpson.

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Speaking of Rich McCormick, he recently moved a level higher in the party’s development program for candidates.

McCormick is now considered a “contender” in the National Republican Campaign Committee’s Young Guns program, which is a metrics-based program created to identify the most competitive candidates across the country.

Karen Handel, who is hoping to win back her seat in the Sixth District, is the only Georgia candidate so far this cycle to make it to the highest-tier Young Gun status.

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Gwinnett County is the nation’s 12th most immigrant-rich electorate, Axios reported this morning, a statistic that could have a direct impact on the 7th District congressional race.

About 18% of eligible voters in Gwinnett were born in another country. Nationally, immigrants are about 10 percent of voters, a record-high, Axios said after analyzing data from New American Economy.

The Seventh District contest is among five races nationally the news organization designated “ones to watch.” The others are in Texas and California.

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