Georgia lawmakers pass Arizona-style immigration bill

ATLANTA Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:11am EDT

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - An Arizona-style immigration bill cleared the Georgia legislature late Thursday and needs only the governor's signature to become law.

The legislation would give police authority to question suspects about their immigration status. It would also require many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.

After extended debate, both the state Senate and House of Representatives passed the legislation in the final hours of their 40-day session.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has not said whether he would sign it.

Deal supported E-Verify as a member of the U.S. Congress, said Phil Kent, spokesman for the Virginia-based nonprofit Americans for Immigration Control.

"It would be political suicide for him to go against the wishes of the large majority of the people's representatives," Kent said on Friday.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials' Educational Fund on Thursday called the legislation "unconstitutional and costly" and predicted that it will produce an expensive legal fight for Georgia, as it has for Arizona.

"Throughout the country, Georgia is known for its deep roots in the civil rights movement," the organization wrote in a statement. "By legislating discrimination, this bill would undermine Georgia's history and image."

On Monday, a U.S. appeals court agreed with an earlier court ruling that blocked parts of Arizona's controversial immigration law from going into effect.

That included the provision that would require police to determine the immigration status of a person they have detained and suspect is in the country illegally.

Arizona-inspired immigration measures also are proceeding through legislatures in Alabama, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Utah has passed and the governor signed an Arizona-inspired measure which also included provisions such as a guest worker program.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)

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