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Deal says he is planning to sign immigration bill

Proposal modeled on Arizona law earns support from Hall lawmakers, but also criticism

POSTED: April 16, 2011 1:47 a.m.

As a tough immigration law heads to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for approval, Hall County residents and businesses are beginning to wonder how the changes will affect them.

The morning after the bill passed for the 2011 legislative session, Deal said he would sign it into law.

"I haven't had time to review it in great detail, but from watching the process and seeing it move forward, it's a bill I will sign," Deal told The Times in a telephone interview Friday morning.

As a U.S. representative, Deal backed tough measures aimed at illegal immigration, including ending birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to parents in the country illegally. He said during his campaign for governor that he would back an Arizona-style law in Georgia.

"Hopefully, it will send the message to Congress that the states want the federal government to step up and solve the issue for us, and states have to continue to do what is in their jurisdiction to do," Deal said.

"They may address it in different ways, but we all have the problem and can't totally solve it at the state level. This helps to send the message that Congress should get serious about it."

Members of the Hall County delegation supported the legislation.

"I believe the final version of House Bill 87 makes a clear statement that we intend to uphold the law in Georgia even if our federal government turns its head to some who break into this country illegally," Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, said after the final version passed Thursday.

The bill would authorize law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects and allows them to detain those found to be in the country illegally. It would also penalize people who "knowingly and intentionally" transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

The Senate added wording Thursday keeping the requirement that private businesses with more than 10 employees to use the E-Verify federal database to check the legal status of new hires.

But it also said any company that committed a "good faith violation" of the mandate would have a 30-day period to comply.

Among other provisions, the Georgia bill authorizes law enforcement officers to detain those found to be in the country illegally and penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants, all similar to Arizona's law.

"Here's my question: How long is a just amount of time for me to serve in prison for driving a client to a battered women's shelter or a scheduled court hearing?" Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso said. "I knew they would find a way to pass E-Verify, but how can I continue to do my job and transport clients? I am now facing incarceration."

A federal appeals court decision Monday upheld a stay blocking major parts of Arizona's immigration law. The Georgia bill's sponsor, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, has said the language in his bill differs significantly from Arizona's and that he is confident it will stand up to any legal challenges.

Given the recent challenges to Arizona's law, Corso questioned the motive behind mirroring Georgia's bill after it.

"As they run campaigns and raise money, they can say they voted for it even if it never really takes effect.

It's not their fault if the federal judges block it," he said. "It's something to talk about, but nobody's talking about where are the jobs. Arizona has felt an ongoing economic decline since they passed their bill, not because it drove out businesses yet but because of the perception that it will."

Groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center assailed the Georgia bill Friday, saying it will cost the state millions of dollars in lost tourism and business revenue and tack on huge legal bills to defend against inevitable legal challenges.

"The main thing that I've heard from the businesses here is that they want to know where to get good help for the prices they're paying," said Dave Anderson, editor of Gainesville's Spanish-language newspaper Mexico Lindo.

"They'd pay more, but then the food would rot because people wouldn't pay for it. People don't understand there's a relationship between what's paid for labor and what they pay for their food."

The bill's requirements are already being fulfilled by most Hall County businesses, Anderson noted, but the official move could continue to drive out potential workers.

"I don't think people realize just how many jobs have been driven off. Given what has happened at some of the poultry companies since Hispanics began to get scarce, it's going to be terrible," he said. "Studies show that 75 percent of illegal immigrants pay income taxes, and they pay ad valorem taxes and sales taxes, but nobody looks up the facts. They don't think about how that helps the local economy."

Associated Press contributed to this article



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