Georgia Legislature Passes Bill on Illegal Immigration

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HB 87, which was authored by Republican Representative Matt Ramsey, forces all employers with more than 10 workers to check the immigration status of any incoming employee through the federal government's E-Verify system. Furthermore, individuals who are caught using fake identification to obtain employment may face as much as 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Opponents from the agriculture industry argue that the E-verify system is imperfect and will likely create lawsuits from potential employees who are wrongfully denied a job. Georgia's agriculture industry also fears that if the bill becomes law, farmers will be left to deal with a shortage of laborers. The industry reasons that the federal guest worker programs cannot provide the large number of laborers that are needed.

The bill grants police the right to look into a suspect's immigration status if the suspect cannot readily supply a valid form of identification and the officer has reason to believe that a ''criminal offense'' has been committed. If the suspect is confirmed to be an illegal immigrant, the officer has the power to notify the federal authorities or detain the suspect.

The measure also penalizes anyone who transports or harbors an illegal immigrant while committing another crime. However, according to Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck, ''criminal offenses'', as defined by the measure, could be as insignificant as a traffic offense.

The measure is now in the hands of Republican Governor Nathan Deal but whether he will sign or reject it is unknown. Last year, Deal campaigned on the promise of passing an Arizona-style immigration law but has since stated that the new immigration law must not place ''undue burden'' on employers.

Following the House's passage of HB 87, Ramsey stated that the legislature had done its job in addressing both the costs and social issues that came about as a result of the federal government's inability to secure the US borders. The bill's supporters argue that the estimated 480,000 illegal immigrants in the state have caused overcrowding in the schools, as well as placing a financial burden on taxpayers.

Legal and activist groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have made no secret of their intent to file lawsuits in an effort to block the bill. Due to the similarities between the two, opponents of HB87 are closely monitoring the outcome of Arizona's law, SB1070, which has been disputed on the grounds that it displaces federal authority. Just last week, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals supported a federal judge's decision to strike down portions of SB1070, including the provision that enables police officers to check the immigration of suspected illegal immigrants who have been justly stopped.

States, such as Florida, are currently contemplating similar immigration bills while Nebraska and Colorado have recently rejected comparable bills. Utah recently passed immigration legislation but also passed a law granting ''guest worker'' identification cards to undocumented individuals.

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