ATLANTA - A state lawmaker on Wednesday filed a bill that would crack down on illegal immigration in Georgia and that mirrors some provisions in a controversial law that took effect in Arizona last year.
The "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011" was filed by Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Peachtree City Republican who co-chaired a legislative study commission on illegal immigration in the fall.
The Georgia legislation would require law enforcement officers to, when enforcing other laws, try to determine an individual's immigration status if an officer "develops reasonable suspicion" that the person is an illegal immigrant, according to a copy of the bill provided to The Associated Press. Upon confirming that such a person is an illegal immigrant, the officer would be authorized to arrest that person and take him or her to a federal jail.
The bill would also impose penalties on people who encourage an illegal immigrant to come to Georgia or who transport or hide illegal immigrants once they're in the state.
A federal judge blocked similar provisions in a law enacted in Arizona last year after the federal government filed a lawsuit.
Ramsey said he believes the Georgia bill is written in such a way that it should not provoke a federal lawsuit.
"We believe it's drawn up in a way that's constitutional, but there may be people in the Obama Justice Department who don't agree," he said. "I would hope they will focus more on securing the border than on suing states."
Ramsey said his bill and a similar one expected to be filed in the Senate this week by committee co-chair Sen. Jack Murphy were inspired by concern from constituents about the economic impact of illegal immigrants on Georgia in a time of tight budgets.
State Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Duluth, said he hasn't read the bill yet but has concerns about what he has been told is in it.
"I'm concerned about the possibility of racial profiling," said Marin, adding he has co-signed a new racial profiling bill to be introduced this session.
"It troubles me, not just me, but hundreds of thousands of immigrants in this state."
Marin said he thinks the bill will "put a black eye on the state of Georgia" at a time when it is competing to attract international businesses.
"On the one hand, we are saying 'come here, we want to part of the global economy,' but then we have legislation that would hurt the immigrant community," he said.
Ramsey dismissed fears of racial profiling, saying there are specific provisions in the bill to guard against it. The legislation would require private employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the eligibility of new hires. Currently only public employers and their contractors are required to use the system in Georgia.
The bill would provide incentives for local law enforcement agencies that partner with the federal government on immigration enforcement.
The legislation also would require applicants for taxpayer-funded services to present "secure and verifiable identification documents" to ensure illegal immigrants don't have access to public benefits they are barred by law from receiving.
Murphy on Wednesday released an editorial to the media outlining the Senate bill he plans to introduce this week. He said the point of his bill is "to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to find work in Georgia."
Like Ramsey's bill, Murphy's would require private employers to run potential new employees through E-Verify. It also requires that subcontractors use E-Verify to check the status of their own employees.
Murphy's proposal also would allow law enforcement officers to ask a person who is stopped on suspicion of a crime to produce proof of legal immigration status and to turn suspected illegal immigrants over to federal authorities.
Also on Wednesday, state Rep. James Mills, a Gainesville Republican, introduced legislation that would require that all drivers license exams be conducted in English. The bill makes an exception for some temporary license applicants, such as immigrants seeking asylum or granted refugee status. But it places a 10-year limit on such temporary licenses.
On Monday, state Sen. Bill Heath, a Republican from Bremen, filed legislation that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving worker's compensation benefits.
Immigration is expected to be a top issue during this year's legislative session in Georgia. Before the session started legislators "prefiled" bills dealing with illegal immigrants in the state university system and another with employment verification of contractors.
Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report.