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Hispanic Stores in Atlanta Close to Protest Anti-Immigrant Law

ATLANTA – Many Hispanic stores in Atlanta closed in protest against Georgia’s HB 87, a law sanctioning illegal immigrants that went into effect without two of its harshest provisions.

On Friday the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, together with other civil organizations, called on the Hispanic and immigrant community to go on strike to show their “economic power.”

As part of the “Day Without Immigrants,” activists urged the immigrant community not to buy, sell, or go to work.

Several of the Latino community’s favorite meeting places remained desolate Friday afternoon, while the few pedestrians in the area expressed their concern about the new measure.

“We’re upset about this law, but for now there’s nothing we can do but to keep fighting,” said Aurelio Charles, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Atlanta for 10 years.

The 43-year-old immigrant, a native of Tamaulipas, seemed worried about the possibility of being detained for his immigration status and not being able to help his family in Mexico economically.

I have my family there and if this gets bad, I don’t know how they’ll manage,” he said sadly.

Maria, a young Guatemalan who preferred not to give her last name, looked worried as she walked the empty corridors of the popular Plaza Fiesta mall, one of the emblematic sites of Atlanta’s immigrant community.

She said that in the year and a half she has worked here, she has never seen it looking so “empty and sad.”

“It looks very lonely, as if people don’t want to go out in the street, but this is how it’s going to look when the law is really enforced,” the young woman said.

In one corridor after another, the usually busy shopping center was full of stores with their lights out and doors shut, while on many of their windows were messages of solidarity with immigrants and rejection of law HB 87, whose critics call it a “copy” of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.

Though a judge blocked implementation of two of the harshest provisions of the law – one that would allow police to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects who are unable to produce a valid ID and another that would punish people who knowingly transport or shelter illegal immigrants – many fear that the law creates “anti-immigrant prejudice in the state.”

“The message is clear: Georgia is no longer the ‘Peach State,’ now it’s the ‘Hate State,’” Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR, said about the enactment of HB 87.

Since Friday, it has become a crime punishable with up to 15 years in jail and fines up to $250,000 to use forged documents to get a job.

And from Jan. 1, 2012, private companies will be required to use the federal employment eligibility system E-Verify.

Also in January of next year, government agencies that provide services, such as housing assistance and food stamps, will only accept ID documents issued by the state or federal government.

On Saturday morning, local rights organizations staged a “March for Justice” in front of the Georgia State Capitol, that was joined by the Anti-Defamation League and Amnesty International.

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