ATLANTA — A panel charged with ensuring that public employees and agencies comply with state laws on immigration on Friday discussed its process for handling complaints.
The first complaint with the Immigration Enforcement Review Board was filed last month by anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King against Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and city council members, saying a city ordinance violates state law by allowing applicants for public benefits to present an unacceptable Mexican government ID card.
The panel was created by Georgia’s new law targeting illegal immigration. Two members of the seven-person panel were present in a law firm conference room in Atlanta and the other five members participated in Friday’s meeting by conference call.
The board also voted unanimously to name former Fulton County GOP chairman Shawn Hanley vice chairman.
When the board receives a complaint, it will generally use a conference call for preliminary handling, to make sure the complaint fulfills all necessary requirements and get the process started, said board chairman Ben Vinson, an Atlanta lawyer. Vinson will then send a letter to the person or agency that is the subject of the complaint with a deadline to submit a written response.
Once a response is received, the board will ask for more information or set a date to hold a full hearing with its members present to hear from both parties and to collect evidence, and then the board will vote whether to launch a formal investigation, Vinson said.
It is entirely possible the process will end with the written response if the person or agency demonstrates that the complaint is not true or that remedial action has been taken, Vinson said
The new law adopted last year gives the board power to investigate complaints, hold hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses and take disciplinary action. If the board finds a “knowing and willful violation or failure to enforce an eligibility status provision,” a public employee or agency could be removed from the list of qualified local governments, lose state funds, and/or be ordered to pay a fine between $1,000 and $5,000. King is founder of the Dustin Inman Society, which advocates for stricter enforcement of immigration laws. His complaint said an Atlanta city ordinance adopted in 2004 violates the new state law targeting illegal immigration by recognizing a Mexican ID card, known as a matricula consular, for city government transactions.
The matricula consular is an identification card issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican citizens in other countries. The Georgia law says agencies that administer public benefits must require applicants to submit a secure and verifiable form of identification proving eligibility, and it specifically says a matricula consular is not acceptable.
Reese McCranie, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city has no comment on the complaint but indicated it complies with the law.
“City of Atlanta 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,” he wrote in an email.
Vinson said during the meeting that he hoped to send a letter to the city later Friday to ask for a written response to King’s complaint within 15 days.
The law that established the board did not provide for its funding, but a state budget proposal that has yet to be finalized gives the board a modest budget of $7,500, which is based on the board receiving 10 complaints by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, Vinson said. The board has asked for about double that amount and estimated 25 complaints for the next fiscal year, he said.
Because the board is a regulatory body with sanction power, it is allowed to withhold all documents related to an investigation from the public or media until it the investigation is complete and a decision has been reached, Vinson said. But he added that the board would release initial complaints to anyone who files a request under the state’s open records law.