Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has named the spokesman for a “hate group” who once called African asylum seekers “primitive peoples” to a panel charged with determining if the state’s restrictive new immigration law is being properly enforced.
Deal, a first-term Republican, tapped Phil Kent, a national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control, to serve on the state’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board, a seven-member panel tasked with investigating citizen complaints that local governments and law enforcement agencies are not properly enforcing the state’s tough new immigration law, which took effect July 1.
The panel’s mandate includes subpoena power authority to levy fines and revoke the charters of local governments. The panel will have no paid staff and no budget other than to reimburse travel expenses, Deal’s spokesman said.
Kent, a former newspaper editorial page editor and spokesman for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), is also the executive director of the Americans for Immigration Control Foundation and serves on the board of ProEnglish, an organization that lobbies to make English the official language of local, state and the federal government.
In 2004, Kent wrote that political refugees from the developing world should not be welcome in the United States but instead should be routed by the State Department to other developing countries.
“Why must the soft-headed State Department and federal Office of Refugee Resettlement continue pushing to resettle primitive peoples -a gross disservice to both them and the dozens of U.S. urban areas being impacted?” Kent wrote in the December 2004/January 2005 issue of the Americans for Immigration Control newsletter, Immigration Watch. “The Bantus, for example, don’t know any English. But beyond that they don’t comprehend how modern appliances - ranging from washing machines to automobiles - operate.”
AIC has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups” since 2001, and since then Kent has been a regular contributor to the organization’s newsletters. SPLC research director Heidi Beirich wrote that Kent also has ties to several other organizations tied to racial extremists.
“These are white supremacist organizations,” said Daniel Werner, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “This isn’t an organization that merely takes a restrictionist view on immigration. There are plenty of orgs that take a restrictionist view on immigration that are not hateful.”
The SPLC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, is behind the lawsuit seeking to invalidate portions of the legislation. It did not seek to block the enforcement panel.
Kent, a political consultant who authored books titled “Foundations of Betrayal: How the Liberal $uper-Rich Undermine America” and “The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth,” brushed off any criticism of his past writings as the work of the
“The Southern Poverty Law Center is a left-wing radical group, and they attack anyone to the right of Barack Obama,” he said. “We laugh them off. They love throwing that around, hate groups.”
And Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said Deal intended his appointees to the board to take a hard line on immigration.
“Gov. Deal signed this piece of legislation into law not so that it could be neutered and used as window dressing,” Robinson said. “This immigration law is meant to have teeth. We want it to be enforced.”
Already parts of the law, which Deal signed in May, are on hold. In June a federal judge in Atlanta blocked portions of the legislation that would have punished people who aid illegal immigrants and allowed local police to check the legal status of anyone not carrying identification.
And the state’s agriculture industry has suffered with an employment shortage this summer after thousands of Hispanic migrant workers fled the state. Deal’s proposal to replace them with convicted criminals on probation backfired when most of them walked off the job because it was too difficult.
The all-white board, which by law must meet before Oct. 1 and then at least once every three months thereafter, is also taking heat for its lack of minorities.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, the chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, told POLITICO the board “seems like it’s going to be a witch hunt.”
“When I read about that panel, I said, ‘That panel is stacked,’” Jones said. “I didn’t see a Hispanic or other person of color on it. He stacked the deck on us.”
Kent, for his part, struck a John Robertsian tone, telling POLITICO that the panel will merely decide cases based on evidence it finds.
“We’re just going to call the shots like an umpire, without fear or favor,” he said.
Another Deal-appointed board member, former Fulton County GOP Chairman Shawn Hanley, said it is “a coincidence” that the board consists only of white men.
“You have three different people who had to pick three, two and two (members),” he said. “You wouldn’t want one of them to be forced to pick a minority for one of their spots.”
Boyd Austin, the 16-year mayor of Dallas, Ga., who was named to the panel by Lt. Gov. Cagle, said he sees himself as the moderate voice on the panel.
“It may be a Pandora’s box, and I’m not sure I want to open it,” he said of the panel. “Knowing most of the people in Georgia, I think there may be a flurry (of complaints of immigration law violators) at the outset. Once we ensure that people understand the process and what’s required of them, they will be complaint. That’s the goal, to ensure compliance, not to really go after folks.”
And Terry Clark, a farmer from rural Moultrie who was appointed by Speaker Ralston, is the lone member of the board who does not hail from metro Atlanta. Asked what qualified him to serve on the immigration panel, Clark said: “I know a little about immigration, I’m a farmer. I don’t know if I have any other qualifications. There might not be anyone on the board that can call themselves qualified, it’s just something new.”
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.