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Georgia Legislature Follows Arizona in Passing Immigration-Rules Overhaul

Georgia passed a bill giving state law enforcement and businesses broader authority to identify undocumented immigrants, after a similar effort in Arizona was blocked by federal courts.

Under the legislation, police are allowed to verify the immigration status of people suspected of certain crimes and arrest those in the country illegally. It also would require businesses with at least 10 employees to use a federal database to check that new hires are authorized to work in the U.S.

“We don’t mind taking care of people, let’s just take care of our own people,” Renee Unterman, Republican Senator from Buford, said on the floor of the legislature in Atlanta yesterday. “I don’t want to take care of Mexico’s people that are here illegally.”

The legislation passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate last night. Governor Nathan Deal intends to sign the bill, a spokesman, Brian Robinson, said in an e-mail today.

Georgia’s bill follows a law in Arizona, passed in April 2010, requiring police to determine the immigration status of people stopped for questioning. A lower court’s ruling to block the central provisions of that law was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco on April 11. Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a similar bill into law in March.

Delayed by Challenges

Legal challenges to Arizona’s law have caused some of the more than 20 states where similar legislation was introduced to delay passing the measures, said Ann Morse, program director at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

“States are unlikely to go forward while the law is enjoined in court,” she said in a telephone interview.

The Georgia bill would allow racial profiling and “the flames of hate to be fanned,” said Senator Nan Orrock, a Democrat from Atlanta, on the Senate floor.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Agribusiness Council objected to provisions in the bill that would require businesses to use the federal E-Verify program to check that new employees are authorized to work. Lawmakers in states including Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee are considering similar legislation.

Requiring employers to use the federal system will open them up to lawsuits if they “trip over any one of the many rules” in the program, Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, wrote in an op-ed this month in Savannahnow.com, a community website affiliated with the Savannah Morning News.

It also risks leaving immigrants in Georgia, where the U.S. Census Bureau found the Hispanic population almost doubled in past the decade, wary of police and less likely to contact them when they see crimes, making communities less safe, said Azadeh Shahshahani, a project director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

“It’s going to turn Georgia into a ‘show-me-your-papers’ state,” she said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simone Baribeau in Miami at sbaribeau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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