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Arizona-style illegal immigration bill heads to Ga. governor

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Georgia Legislature has passed an immigration bill that contains some parts similar to an Arizona law being challenged in court.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal must sign it to make it law. His office on Thursday would not say if the Republican governor would sign it.

Deal supported tough immigration measures when he was in Congress.

The bill would authorize law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects and allows them to detain those found to be in the country illegally. It would also penalize people who "knowingly and intentionally" transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

It also would require employers with 10 or more employees to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.

Rep. Matt Ramsey, who crafted the bill, said he has talked with lawyers and believes the law would withstand legal challenges.

Ramsey said E-Verify is the most important part of his bill because jobs drive illegal immigrants to Georgia. Business groups have said the requirement puts an undue burden on employers.

"From the business standpoint, it's an unacceptable mandate on the private sector," Georgia Agribusiness Council president Bryan Tolar said. "As long as E-Verify is in it, (this bill) is bad for Georgia's economy."

'Legislative responsibility'
As of last month, legislators in 30 states had introduced 52 bills that include more than one immigration provision, many with language similar to Arizona's law, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, 14 have failed and 36 are pending.

Utah is the only state so far to have enacted a law similar to Arizona's, requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor. Arizona's law allows police to question immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court upheld a judge's decision that has prevented the most controversial parts of the law from taking effect.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who made immigration a centerpiece of his tenure in Congress, has been largely silent on the wrangling in his state's General Assembly.

"I view this as primarily the legislative responsibility," he said Wednesday.

Civil liberties and immigrant rights groups have opposed the bills — holding a rally at the Capitol last month that drew more than 5,000 people. They've collected thousands of signatures on a petition and spoke out at legislative committee meetings.

They say the bill will be bad for the state's economy and could also lead to civil rights violations and lawsuits. Many Democrats have taken up those arguments.