The Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board unanimously elected Atlanta lawyer Ben Vinson as its chair and laid out plans to set up committees and procedures to handle complaints.
The seven-member board was created by a new state law passed this year designed to crack down on illegal immigration.
Vinson said the board will be very narrowly weighing whether businesses and governments are conducting legally required checks before hiring or providing government benefits and will not be seeking out violators.
“We are reactionary,” Vinson said. “We have to wait until a complaint comes in. We look at the complaint, we review it, we gather data and possibly testimony if we need it. And then we apply the law to those facts and move forward.”
Thursday’s meeting comes after thousands of people have signed petitions calling on Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to rescind his appointment of Phil Kent to the board. Critics have called Kent’s views on race and culture “extreme.”
Kent dismissed that criticism after the meeting, saying he had no intention of stepping aside and had become a target for the “open borders, multicultural lobby.”
Far from backing away from some of his previous comments, Kent repeated on Thursday that he opposes multiculturalism.
“I think everyone regardless of race and ethnicity ought to assimilate into being an American,” he said. “They ought to learn English and learn our civic courses and be patriotic. But that has absolutely nothing to do with my service on this board or with anyone’s service on this board. We are for strict enforcement of our laws on the books.”
Kent, a Georgia-based political pundit, serves as national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control. The group calls for deporting all illegal immigrants, opposes any amnesty or guest worker legislation, and says immigration should be restricted to numbers that may be assimilated.
Deal’s office has declined to comment on the petitions seeking Kent’s removal.
Vinson said he did not believe the uproar surrounding Kent would be a distraction.
Although the board was sworn in Thursday, it has already received its first complaint. It was filed against one business by another, which would appear to fall outside the board’s jurisdiction, Vinson said.
The board must organize itself moving forward and may form committees and implement procedures for investigating and prioritizing complaints.
The board has subpoena power and may issue fines of up to $5,000.
Some board members said part of their job may be clarifying parts of the state’s immigration law for local governments seeking to comply.
A federal judge has placed some parts of Georgia’s law on hold. The state is appealing that decision.