Georgia's tough anti-illegal immigration legislation — based on the controversial bill passed in Arizona past last year, currently tangled up in federal court — now needs only a signature from Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to become law.
On Thursday evening, the Georgia House and Senate passed House Bill 87, putting the state on track with Arizona to have some of the strictest immigration laws in the country.
The "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011" would grant law enforcement officers the power to arrest illegal immigrants and transport them to state and federal jails, would penalize people who use fake I.D.'s to get hired with up to 15 years in jail and would require some employers to check the immigration status of employees using E-Verify, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
This last measure came under intense criticism by the business community, which said it would place an undue burden on employers. However, the provision was weakened in the final version of the bill, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Georgia business boosters said lawmakers in a final day compromise had addressed some of their concerns. The legislation, for example, now exempts businesses with 10 or fewer employees from the requirement to use E-Verify.
"Small businesses won't be impacted as negatively as they would have been," said Joselyn Baker, spokeswoman for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. "It's a great step forward in making sure that Georgia's economy is able to continue to recover."
Gov. Deal has not said he will sign the bill. Legislation cracking down on illegal immigration is steadily on the rise: In 2010, state legislatures enacted a record number of laws and resolutions addressing immigration issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bills similar to Arizona's legislation have been introduced in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, but none have been enacted to date.