Arguing that the federal government has not done enough to protect the country’s borders, Georgia on Thursday followed Arizona’s lead in passing tough legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.
Both chambers of the state legislature passed a bill modeled on Arizona’s controversial immigration law, requiring businesses to confirm that new hires are legally eligible to work in the United States and authorizing police to check the immigration status of some criminal suspects.
Parts of Arizona’s bill have been put on hold as they’re challenged in federal court. On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s order barring parts of the Arizona law, including the section requiring police to check the legal status of people they lawfully stop and whom they suspect to be illegal immigrants.
The Georgia state Senate voted 37-19 in favor of the bill and, coming down to the wire at the end of a legislative session, the House voted 112-59 to pass it.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who campaigned on passing an immigration law based on Arizona’s, has since flagged in his support, saying that an immigration law should not place an “undue burden” on employers. His office would not say Thursday whether he will sign the bill into law.
The bill requires employers with more than 10 employees to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check workers’ immigration statuses. Police would be able to check the status of some suspects and to detain them. It would also penalize people who, while committing another crime, knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants, or encourage them to go to Georgia. And it would punish people who use fake identification to get a job with up to 15 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000.
But even if it doesn’t ultimately become law, some Georgia lawmakers are celebrating. “It’s a great day for Georgia,” said Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey, the bill’s author. “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.”
Opponents, meanwhile, have argued the bill would encourage racial profiling and discrimination, and could hurt business in the state.
“You have crafted a bill that insists on demonizing people of brown skin and with Spanish accents,” Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock said, The Associated Press reported. Another Democratic senator, Vincent Fort, defended illegal immigrants’ rights to CNN, saying that “people come here, legally or illegally, to fulfill the dreams that they have for themselves and their families.”
Florida and several other states are considering similar bills, while legislation in other states has been voted down. Utah is the only other state to have passed tough anti-illegal immigration legislation so far this year. Georgia is estimated to have 480,000 illegal immigrants, 20,000 more than in Arizona.