Because Georgia felt it necessary to seal off its borders from illegal immigrants, your access to state history will soon be sealed off, too.
That’s not my conclusion.
That was the connection drawn Wednesday by Secretary of State Brian Kemp as he explained why he decided to lay off seven archivists and close – except by Saturday appointment – the place where Georgia’s most treasured documents are kept.
Response to Kemp’s decision has been surprisingly strong. Minutes after our chat, 100 or librarians, archivists, historians and genealogists descended on the state Capitol in protest. Some called for his impeachment. My AJC colleague Kristina Torres has the details here.
While he has cited budget pressures created by the Great Recession, Kemp has never before pointed to the state’s efforts to combat illegal immigration as a factor in his decision to close the Georgia Archives.
The secretary of state is no fan of illegal immigration. He has no quarrel with state lawmakers who in 2011 passed HB 87, the measure intended to drive illegal immigrants back whence they came.
Except for one unintended consequence.
Farmers quickly pointed out one blind spot in HB 87. Millions of dollars in crops rotted in the fields in the months after the measure’s passage, as Georgia’s underground labor force went deeper underground, or fled to friendlier states.
Kemp has another one in mind. As HB 87 made its way through the Capitol, lawmakers motivated by a belief that illegal immigrants were tapping into Georgia’s social welfare system insisted that the spigot be turned off completely.
HB 87 declared that anyone who received a taxpayer-paid public benefit would be required to prove legal residency. That applies to food stamps, in-state college tuition, and public housing.
It also applies to 479,000 professional licenses that must be granted, then renewed every other year, by Kemp’s office. Accountants, wastewater treatment operators, dentists, nurses, barbers, cosmetologists, and engineers. Musical therapists – there are perhaps 100 in Georgia — were just added to the list of licensed occupations by the Legislature this year.
All must mail, fax, hand-deliver or email photocopies of their drivers licenses, passports, or government-issued IDs to Kemp, whose employees must inspect the paperwork to make sure that no refugee from Mexico or Guatemala is using Mozart to help some 6-year-old get past a stutter.
“You have to check a secure and verifiable document,” Kemp said.
License renewals, a process that once took two days, now take 10. The amount of time that phone callers wait on hold has grown threefold. Kemp’s call center received 459,000 phone calls last year. It could only answer 329,000.
“The way the law is written – first of all, it’s costing us a lot of work to do that,” Kemp said. “It’s taken automated, streamlined processes that we put in place to try to help with all these budget cuts over the last several years – and now made them bureaucratic again.”
That portion of government has not been made smaller, he admitted.
When Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the latest round of budget cuts – 3 percent, or $733,000 from the secretary of state’s office – Kemp said his options were already limited.
An agreement with the U.S. Justice Department prevented further cuts in his division that oversees state elections. Extra duties imposed by the Dodd-Frank Act sealed off cuts to his securities division.
The workload explosion in his licensing division caused by HB 87 prevented any further cuts in that $7 million-a-year operation – which had 126 employees in 2008, and now has 87.
Besides, licensing fees generate $24 million a year for the state. The money goes into the general fund.
And so Kemp focused on the small corner of his realm that holds the Georgia Archives. “I just didn’t have any other good choices,” the secretary of state said. “It’s not to going to be ideal.”
Both Kemp and Deal say they’ll attempt to find a solution by January, when the Legislature reconvenes, to recreate regular operating hours. But those seven archivists whose employment ends Oct. 31 are out of luck.
Kemp said he will also seek from the Legislature the same change to HB 87 that he asked for this year. That would require nearly half a million Georgia professionals to prove their citizenship only when seeking a license for the first time.
No longer would that hair stylist in Hahira or the accountant in Marietta be required to prove her citizenship every other year.
Which would require the state to spend less money on securing its borders, and allow it — perhaps — to spend more on securing its history.
“This is not about the actions that the Legislature took on the immigration bill,” Kemp said. “I’m not being critical of that. This is just fixing an unintended consequence that made a streamlined system bureaucratic.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider