"Please don't separate my family."
"We are humans."
"Hope and change."
Those were some of the posters several children carried, written in English and Spanish, during a rally Saturday morning in Gainesville's Roosevelt Square.
People packed the square to hear messages and songs against state House Bill 87, which cracks down on illegal immigration in the state by increasing some enforcement powers and requiring many employers to check the immigration status of new hires.
It was signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Nathan Deal.
"I'm still mad at the teachers who taught us French. We should have been learning Spanish," said Bishop Ernest Burns of Shady Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia. "But there's one thing that transcends all languages, and that is the language of love."
The rally was organized with the theme "Love Thy Neighbor."
"We're going to stand by you in this," Burns said. "We're going to stand shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm and make it possible for all of us to live together."
The rally brought together representatives from Gainesville State College's Students for a Progressive Society, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, North Georgia Immigrant Justice, Habersham Families Helping Families, Habersham County Democratic Party and several churches.
"This law is flawed, racist and will certainly harm Georgia's economy," said Tonna Harris-Bosselmann, faculty adviser for Students for a Progressive Society and English as a Second Language coordinator. "In Georgia, we are not all ignorant xenophobes who fear people who look different. We respect, appreciate and welcome the immigrant community."
Harris-Bosselmann admires the perseverance of her immigrant students.
"My students don't become bitter. They remain positive and focused on their goals," she said. "The inspire me and are fuel for my passion."
The new law was a subject of heated debate during the 2011 legislative session. It shares similarities to a controversial law enacted last year in Arizona and another this year in Utah. Part or all of those two laws have been blocked by federal judges, and opponents have said they'll sue to try to do the same to Georgia's law.
"As a community, we must stand up and fight back," said John Rich, a senior at the University of Georgia. "Efforts are under way to challenge this law ... but we cannot afford to wait for the politicians and lawyers to save us."
Rich encouraged the community to find strength within themselves.
"The government doesn't own this earth. We the people do," he said to a burst of applause. "Human beings are more important than borders. We matter more than the invisible lines drawn in the sands by our government."
A federal judge blocked some provisions of Arizona's law last year after the federal government sued, and an appeals court upheld that decision last month. The state plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We will never give up, and we will never give in," Rich said. "We will take this law and burn it to the ground, and like a phoenix, we will rise through the ashes and live together."
Opponents of the measure say the bill could lead to racial profiling and could harm the state's economy. Supporters say it's necessary because illegal immigrants are a drain on Georgia's resources.
"I am worried because it's not only me but hundreds of people out there," said Mynor "Nolo" Lopez, a Gainesville State College student. "We work with our minds, and we work with our hands, but people don't pay attention when we go to the stores, pay taxes and pay rent. We don't live for free."
The law includes the following:
Law enforcement officers now are authorized to check the immigration status of certain suspects and to detain them if they are in the country illegally.
A requirement for private employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires is set to be phased in, with all employers with more than 10 employees required to comply by July 2013.
It penalizes people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
"We have learned how to be courageous and determined," Lopez said. "We cross the desert and water, and 50 percent of the time we will make it, and 50 percent of the time we will perish. Our goal is to get here to live better for our families."
Lopez told the crowd to never forget that goal.
"No matter what happens, I will keep on dreaming my dreams," he said. "The day I give up, my friends, is the day that I die."