Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board this week issued its first fine, imposing a $1,000 penalty against Atlanta for violating a state law for verifying the lawful presence of people applying for public benefits.
At issue is a Georgia statute that says government agencies that administer public benefits must require applicants to submit affidavits verifying they are legally present in the U.S. Those agencies are required to screen noncitizen applicants using the federal Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements program, or SAVE.
Filed in August of 2016 by anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King, the complaint alleged Atlanta did not use the SAVE program while renewing the Atlanta Historical Society’s nonprofit business license. The board notified Atlanta about the penalty in a letter this week.
In a May 18 response to the complaint, the city said it approved the Atlanta Historical Society’s initial business license before the state’s SAVE requirement took effect. City officials argued the complaint about the license renewal became moot after they requested and received a SAVE affidavit from the Atlanta Historical Society on May 10. They said they have done the same thing for all “similarly situated nonprofit entities.”
“The city is disappointed with the board's decision because the city complied with the spirit and letter of the law, and took remedial steps at the board's request,” Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed, said in a prepared statement. “The city is reviewing the decision and considering its options.”
Phil Kent, a member of the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, issued a statement Friday about the board’s 4-2 decision.
"Last year D.A. King filed a complaint to the IERB against the city of Atlanta because it refused to protect public benefits according to state law,” he said. "The IERB voted to agree with King that Atlanta was in violation — so the $1,000 fine speaks for itself."
King is president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society, which advocates enforcement of U.S. immigration and employment laws. In all, King has filed 18 of the 19 complaints the board has received since it was formed following the 2011 passage of House Bill 87, Georgia’s comprehensive anti-illegal immigration law, according to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts.
This is not the first time King has set his sights on the city. In 2012, he alleged Atlanta violated state law by allowing people to use Mexican matricula consular ID cards in city government transactions. Georgia law says city officials may not accept the cards when people apply for public benefits. Atlanta officials asked the state board to dismiss the complaint after the City Council repealed an ordinance at the heart of the dispute.