Georgia Anti-Immigration Bill Becomes Law, Threatens Tourism

Despite protests and boycott threats, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal last week signed into law one of the nation's toughest anti-immigration measures, HB 87, which mirrors legislation passed in Arizona last year and could have disastrous consequences for the state's travel and tourism industries.

Like Arizona's controversial law — which since it was enacted in April 2010 has cost that state at least 40 meetings and conventions worth an estimated $141 million, according to the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association — HB 87 allows law enforcement officers to ask suspected criminals about their immigration status, which critics argue amounts to state-sanctioned racial profiling. More than that, however, it also imposes prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to $1,000 for people who knowingly transport illegal immigrants during the commission of a crime, and threatens workers with up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if they're convicted of using fake identification to get a job.

In a resolution passed last month, the executive committee of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) formalized its opposition to the bill, calling it "unwelcoming" for the 34 million conventioneers and tourists that visit Atlanta every year, generating more than $10 billion in direct visitor spending.

"Atlanta's hospitality community is concerned that negative perceptions associated with this legislation could tarnish Atlanta's reputation as one of America's most welcoming cities," the resolution reads. "The loss of potential revenues associated with conventions and tourism would have an adverse effect on Atlanta's economy."

Already, at least one group has promised to relocate its convention from Atlanta because of the new law: On May 4, the US Human Rights Network (USHRN), an Atlanta-based coalition of more than 300 organizations from around the country, announced that it would move its 600-person national conference — scheduled to take place this December in Atlanta — outside the state of Georgia if Gov. Deal signed HB 87.

"We cannot sit idly by while the state of Georgia promotes widespread violations of human and civil rights," said USHRN Executive Director Ajamu Baraka. "Unless Gov. Deal vetoes this bill or until it is repealed, the Network will honor its commitment to the rights of all individuals by taking its business elsewhere."