ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Republican-controlled Georgia legislature has passed a bill cracking down on illegal immigrants that is similar to a state measure enacted in Arizona last year but blocked by the federal courts.
The Georgia state Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure late on Thursday in the final hours of their 40-day legislative session. Republican backers of the measure argued that the federal government has failed to do enough to prevent illegal immigration into the United States.
Republican Governor Nathan Deal indicated in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that he intends to sign the bill into law, saying it appears to be "consistent with what we would be agreeable to."
The legislation would give police in the Southern U.S. state authority to question criminal suspects about their immigration status. It also would require many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the measure would discourage tourism and overseas investment in the state and create a shortage of farm workers to pick crops.
"This bill will kill jobs and ruin Georgia's economy," said Gonzalez, who urged Deal to veto it.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce business group, which had concerns about the measure, said legislators had addressed the majority of their worries.
The bill exempts small businesses from the 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.
The Georgia measure is the latest to gain favor among Republicans at the state level in the United States who accuse Democratic President Barack Obama and the federal government of failing to combat illegal immigration.
A U.S. federal appeals court on Monday kept on hold Arizona's state law requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they have detained and suspect may be in the country illegally. The court ruled that Arizona improperly meddled in federal issues.
The Arizona law was signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010. The Obama administration challenged it in court, saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration matters.
Similar measures also are proceeding through legislatures in a handful of other U.S. states.