DA King: The force behind Georgia’s immigration law

FILE – In a January 12, 2009 file photo, DA King, leader of the Dustin Inman Society, speaks during a news conference as several members of the Georgia General Assembly look on at the Capitol in Atlanta. For nearly a decade, King has pushed for stricter enforcement of immigration laws. With a sometimes confrontational approach, he has won many supporters but also many enemies. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, file) (AP2009)

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As Georgia’s legislative session ended earlier this year, State Rep. Matt Ramsey, the author of a controversial immigration law said to be one of the toughest in the country, held consultations with a man who is a fixture on Capitol hallways.

His name is DA King.

King, 59, has a long history of lobbying lawmakers and collecting supporters for phone and letter campaigns. The broad-shouldered, 6-foot-2 activist’s approach is sometimes confrontational and always outspoken, making him a hero among those who advocate tougher immigration enforcement — and earning him many enemies.

His advice was welcomed by some lawmakers, including Ramsey, a Republican in Peachtree City, an Atlanta suburb, who authored the tough Georgia measure.

“I can’t think of anyone more adept at working within the state legislature to actually pass legislation in the 20 years that I’ve worked on this subject,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA tighter immigration control is pressing . “In terms of local activists, he’s just at the top of the heap nationally.”

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Ramsey said King provided extensive guidance in drafting the new law and he had gathered supporters to use phone calls and emails to pressure lawmakers.

Despite a judge temporarily blocking two provisions of the law last week, King claims victory. He cited several parts that weren’t blocked, saying they will “strongly discourage illegal aliens from trying to get jobs in Georgia.”

Beginning Jan. 1, companies with 500 or more employees must use a federal database called E-Verify to verify the immigration status of new hires. This requirement will be phased in by July 2013 for all companies with more than 10 employees.

Another makes it a criminal offense to use false information or documentation when applying for a job. Also starting January 1, applicants for public services must present at least one state or federally issued “secure and verifiable” document.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center did not include King’s organization on its list of hate groups. But the center lists him as a “nativist” and has expressed concern about his tendency to label undocumented immigrants as “trespassers” and his association with other more extreme activists.

“His tactics generally weren’t to confront and threaten the actual immigrants,” said Heidi Beirich of the Legal Center. “Because he fights and works his legislation through the political process, we can’t argue about whether we like the law or not.”

Other critics take a sharper view.

“I think he’s working to advance his agenda in a very divisive way,” said Jerry González, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “You have to look at who this man is. He is a convicted felon who advises our legislature and our governor on very important policy matters.”

King is open about his felony conviction. He pleaded guilty in 1977 to one count of interstate gambling for answering phones and raising money for a bookie that was taking wagers on sporting events in Alabama. He was sentenced to pay a fine and two years probation.

The grandson of a Detroit police officer, King grew up in the Detroit suburbs, served two years in the US Marine Corps and made a career as an insurance agent. He had no interest in politics or activism and did not vote.

“When I first started learning about illegal immigration, I went from being very, very shy to very, very angry,” he said.

In the late 1990s, a Mexican family moved in across the street from the home he shares with his wife in suburban Atlanta. It wasn’t long before about 20 people he suspected were living in the country illegally were living in the three-bedroom house, the yard was full of old vehicles, and loud parties were disrupting the neighborhood, King said. He complained to his local government about violations of the code but received no response, he said.

Then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 marked his “aha moment,” he said.

“I realized if I could have people living illegally across the street from me, and there are people in the country flying planes into our buildings, it doesn’t seem like a huge national security effort,” he said .

That’s when he started researching illegal immigration on an old, run-down computer owned by his brother-in-law.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated Georgia’s illegal immigrant population last year at about 425,000, making it the state’s seventh-largest undocumented population.

King stopped working as an insurance agent in 2003 to pursue his cause full-time, and held a 2003 rally at the state Capitol, the first of more than two dozen. He was also deeply affected by five trips to the Arizona-Mexico border between 2003 and 2006, he said.

He met Billy and Kathy Inman, whose 16-year-old son Dustin had died in a car accident caused by an undocumented immigrant, and renamed his group from American Resistance to the Dustin Inman Society in 2005 at their request , the names to be her son live on, he said.

“It has taken more than 30 years for this crisis to develop,” he said. “There is no overnight solution.”

But the federal government has a fundamental duty to secure the country’s borders and track visas to ensure people leave when their time is up, he said. Federal immigration authorities must also enforce the law to keep undocumented immigrants from coming and staying, in what he calls “enforcement attrition.” It’s also important that English is the official language of the US, he said.

He calls the groups campaigning against crackdowns on illegal immigration “open border crazies” and is quick to call or email journalists to update them on their coverage of the issue.

“I know what’s left out of the news,” he said. “I know and watch every day how illegal immigration is constantly being spun.”

King said he’s working on a book, but making fighting illegal immigration a full-time job for nearly a decade has left him deep in debt, forcing him to refinance his home and sell stocks his grandmother left him. He said he must do whatever it takes to “get back to real life” soon.

“There’s no way I’m quitting,” he said, “but I don’t know if I’ll be considered a piece of furniture in the Georgia Capitol next year.”

This is based on a story from The Associated Press.

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