State's immigration bill down to last day

Illegal immigrant Virdiana Martinez and activist Mohammad Abdollahi blocked traffic last week at an Atlanta protest. Immigration is the last major issue for the Legislature this year.

ATLANTA --- Georgia has a day left to pass an immigration bill that has some parts that are similar to Arizona's contentious law, and opposition from agriculture and business groups has made it an uphill battle even with Republicans in control.


After months of public debate and private discussions, a major sticking point is whether the law should force private employers to use a federal database, called E-Verify, to check that new hires are in the U.S. legally. The Senate stripped the E-Verify requirement earlier this week, only to have the House restore it the next day.

Other parts of the bill would let police check the immigration status of certain suspects and penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants, which is similar to language that has tied up Arizona's law in the courts.

Rep. Matt Ramsey, who crafted the bill, said he has talked with lawyers and believes that the legislation would withstand legal challenges.

Ramsey said E-Verify is the most important part of his bill because jobs drive illegal immigrants to Georgia. Business groups have said the requirement puts a burden on employers.

"From the business standpoint, it's an unacceptable mandate on the private sector," Georgia Agribusiness Council president Bryan Tolar said. "As long as E-Verify is in it, (this bill) is bad for Georgia's economy."

Despite the opposition, backers are hoping to get a bill through with E-Verify.

"We're still very optimistic we're going to get a good bill, and we're working hard to make that happen," said Ramsey, a Republican from the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City.

With the state's budget sent to the governor, immigration is the last major issue remaining for legislators. Whether the bill will be watered down is up in the air.

As of last month, legislators in 30 states had introduced 52 bills that include more than one immigration provision, many with language similar to Arizona's law, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, 14 have failed and 36 are pending.

Utah is the only state so far to have enacted a law similar to Arizona's, requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor. Arizona's law allows police to question immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court upheld a judge's decision that has prevented the most controversial parts of the law from taking effect.

Civil liberties and immigrant rights groups have opposed the bills -- holding a rally at the Capitol last month that drew more than 5,000 people. They've collected thousands of signatures on a petition and spoke out at legislative committee meetings.

They say the bill will be bad for the state's economy and could also lead to civil rights violations and lawsuits.