Political, union and religious leaders gathered in Atlanta for the first-ever Southeast Summit on Immigration, where they discussed the impact of the harsh anti-migrant laws adopted by some states in the region.

The panelists stressed the impact that laws like HB 87 have had on Georgia's principal industries and agreed that the immigration problem must be resolved at the federal level and not by the states.

"But with authority comes also responsibility, and our national leaders have failed us. It's time for our federal officials to step up, show leadership and pass comprehensive immigration reform," former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.

Georgia, whose undocumented population is estimated at more than 400,000, became one of the first states in the southeast United States to follow the example of Arizona - which imposed a law seeking to criminalize undocumented migrants - with the passing of HB 87.

The meeting took place amid expectations raised by the Supreme Court's imminent ruling on Arizona's SB 1070 law, which will have repercussions on the states of Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, which have passed similar legislations.

Representatives of agriculture and the food service industry said that something must be done to reverse the negative effects of these laws.

"We're facing a labor shortage that has already affected our industry and it's time that our elected representatives begin to represent the people," Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association that groups close to 2,500 businesses, told Efe.

Bremer stressed the need for the federal government act to solve this problem as soon as possible.

According to a survey taken last year by the GRA, close to half of Georgia's restaurants have suffered a shortage of workers since HB 87 became law.

The food service industry, which in Georgia employs more than 375,000 people and produces earnings close to $14 billion a year, was one of the first sectors to slam the measure.

Georgia agriculture, which generates revenues of more than $68 billion a year, had its worst labor shortage in decades after HB 87 was passed, a situation that forced farmers to cut back on production this year.

Also taking part in the meeting were representatives of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, as well as the mayor of the town of Uvalda, Paul Bridges, who has become a steadfast defender of undocumented immigrants in the state.

"The laws enacted in these states are destroying local economies, they're separating families and we need to send a message that a consensus exists that the federal government must act to remedy the damage that these laws have done," Bridges told Efe. EFE