What was supposed to be an informative discussion about immigration turned heated Tuesday in Rome.
The Society for Human Resource Management hosted an immigration law panel discussion that included state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, Floyd County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell and judicial interpreter Marcella Langlois. The three answered questions about the state’s immigration law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year.
Things took an awkward turn when panel moderator Sandra McCain had to ask one audience member to be respectful of those on the panel.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, had originally been asked to be a part of the panel, before being “uninvited.”
“I find that extremely rude,” Gonzalez said from his table during the lunch meeting at Coosa Country Club.
McCain said after inviting Gonzalez, the SHRM thought a three-person panel would be more beneficial to the discussion.
“Mr. Gonzalez has his own ideas about the illegal immigration, and I think sometimes what happens is the immigration and the illegal immigration get thrown into the same pot, and they are very different things, obviously. And so Mr. Gonzalez represents a group of people that are very much involved and interested in immigration issues,” she said.
The panel was largely focused on employment issues surrounding the immigration law, such as the E-verify system now required for all businesses with more than 10 employees. The program is used to verify a potential employees immigration status.
“Our nation is a nation of laws. They should be acted on equally,” said Dempsey.
She emphasized that the system is intended to be used for new hires, not those already employed with an organization.
“If you are shoplifting you are breaking the law; if you enter the country illegal you are breaking the law,” Dempsey said.
Gonzalez, who began yelling at Dempsey when the meeting ended, was escorted from Coosa Country Club.
One attendee shouted: “Katie Dempsey is a great American hero.”
Langlois, a naturalized U.S. citizen who disagrees with much of the immigration law, voiced her concerns that the law targets those of one specific race.
“I went to get a business license the other day and I was asked for immigration papers. I haven’t been asked for immigration papers in 35 years,” Langlois said.
Langlois was cut off five times by McCain as she tried to answer questions.
McCain said she did feel Langlois’ opinion was adequately heard.
“We were trying to say focused,” McCain said. “This is basically an employment group, a human resources management group. We wanted to stay focused on the issues that were most relevant to these specific employers.”