Georgia lawmakers pass Arizona-style immigration bill

ATLANTA Fri Apr 15, 2011 2:33pm EDT

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A tough 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 crackdown on illegal immigration 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.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, on Friday called for Deal to veto the bill.

The legislation will discourage tourism and overseas investment in Georgia and create a shortage of farm workers to pick crops, Gonzalez said.

"This bill will kill jobs and ruin Georgia's economy," he said.

But the Georgia Chamber of Commerce said legislators had addressed the majority of their concerns.

The bill exempts small businesses from E-Verify requirements and gives the businesses required to use it a 30-day grace period to correct good-faith violations.

"We believe that the bill that passed attempts to strike an important balance between addressing the challenge of illegal immigration and allowing Georgia's economy to continue to grow," the chamber said.

Critics predicted a costly legal fight for Georgia, similar to the one playing out in Arizona.

On Monday, a U.S. appeals court upheld 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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