Georgia approves tough immigration bill modeled after Arizona's

If Gov. Nathan Deal signs an immigration bill passed Thursday by the legislature, expect court challenges. But also expect it to give momentum to similar bills being debated in Alabama, Florida, and several other states.

David Goldman/AP
Rep. Matt Ramsey (R) of Peachtree City, is congratulated after his proposed controversial immigration bill, House Bill 87, is passed in the House chamber, on Thursday, April 14, in Atlanta.

The Georgia legislature jumped into the fray over illegal immigration late Thursday, approving a comprehensive "papers, please" immigration law akin to the one in Arizona that the Obama administration is challenging in court.

Led by the Republican majorities in both chambers, lawmakers voted to allow local and state police to ascertain the residency status of those suspected to be in the country illegally. A similar provision in the controversial Arizona law has prompted two federal courts to prevent its implementation.

The Georgia measure also requires employers with more than 10 employees to use the federal E-Verify database to ensure that all new hires are legally eligible to work, and it makes it a crime to harbor and transport illegal immigrants – or to encourage them to come to Georgia. The legislation calls for punishing those found guilty of using fake work documents with up to 15 years in jail.

The vote, which fell mainly along party lines, came as lawmakers in Georgia, Indiana, and several other states weigh the legal and political consequences of cracking down illegal immigrants within state borders. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), who has not said if he'll sign the bill, campaigned on getting tougher on illegal immigrants, while Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) this week said he opposed using state and local law enforcement to ferret out immigration lawbreakers.

The bill – which lawmakers approved just hours before a 40-day legislative session ended – is likely to be challenged, as was the Arizona law, in federal court. But some say its passage is also likely to fuel efforts elsewhere, such as Alabama and Florida, to challenge federal authority over immigration control.

"This will be an important step toward increasing state [immigration] regulation," says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank that highlights the consequences of legal and illegal immigration.

Georgia has seen an influx of immigrants, many of them illegal, come to work in its fields and restaurants in the past two decades. The state has an estimated 480,000 illegal immigrants, more than Arizona. Overall, some 12 million people are believed to be in the United States illegally.

“It’s a great day for Georgia," state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R), the bill’s author, tells Politico. “We think we have done our job that our constituents asked us to do to address the costs and the social consequences that have been visited upon our state by the federal government’s failure to secure our nation’s borders.” The legislation passed convincingly, 112 to 59 in the House and 37 to 19 in the Senate.

Agribusiness and some local chambers of commerce largely opposed the measure, saying it could lead to unpicked onion fields and convention boycotts. Critics say the bill is unconstitutional and will encourage racial profiling and discrimination in a New South state that has sought to play down its segregated past.

“You have crafted a bill that insists on demonizing people of brown skin and with Spanish accents,” state Sen. Nan Orrock (D) tells the Associated Press.

Some Georgia Republicans from rural areas felt the measure could hurt the farm industry, a sign that Republicans nationally are hardly in lock-step over the use of state and local police to do the job of border patrol agents.

"[Governor] Deal would really want to sign a bill that ... does have some of these police-related provisions, but [Gov.] Mitch Daniels in Indiana is calling for his legislature to do exactly the opposite, to focus on employers and get rid of the police-related stuff that they got from Arizona," says Mr. Krikorian. "I'm not sure how you can explain that."

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