The Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday that takes a tough stance on illegal immigration.
Following a lengthy debate on the floor of the House of Representatives, House Bill 87 was approved 113 to 56.
HB 87 mirrors Arizona's controversial immigration law.
The bill would allow law officers to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects and penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants, provisions also in Arizona's law. Georgia's bill also would require employers to verify the immigration status of new hires and would make it a felony to "willfully and fraudulently" present false documentation when applying for a job.
Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, is very pleased with the House vote.
"I think today's overwhelming passage of this bill expresses the sentiments of the pulse of the people," Mills said. "The federal government has failed to secure our borders, and I'm thankful the state of Georgia has taken up the initiative on behalf of legal citizens to protect our homeland."
Mills said while it is similar to Arizona's law, he believes HB 87 was drafted more carefully.
"We were able to put some language in there to protect those who are trying to minister and help those who need help," Mills said. "I worked with the author (Rep.) Matt Ramsey and others to make sure it only catches those in the net who are participating in illegal activities."
Opponents of the bill stressed they do not support illegal immigration, but believe it is a problem that must be dealt with on the federal level.
Many also fear the bill could lead to racial profiling and damage the state's economy and reputation.
Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso said he is disappointed by the House's support of the bill.
"Passing HB 87 is that first step. If we don't say anything we allow people who look like they might be from a foreign country to be harassed by police. The next step is to have your own children harassed in elementary school classrooms," Corso said. "It's really shocking, I just don't think this is the America we want to live in."
He believes the bill targets employers and will be a burden on businesses.
"If they really believe that the way to turn the immigration problem around in Georgia is to make all employers act the same then why exempt small businesses? Because they know this bill will cripple small businesses," Corso said.
The bill excludes businesses with fewer than four employees from having to verify the immigration status of their employees.
Corso said it is unfortunate so much of the General Assembly's time has been taken up with "hate legislation."
"I hope that now the copycat senators have gotten all the hate out of their system, they'll do some work to end furloughs, help schools and bring economic development to Georgia."
The lengthy bill includes several provisions, including one that would penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants, aimed at punishing smugglers and human traffickers.
It also would allow individual citizens to sue local governments and agencies that don't use federal databases to check the legal status of new hires and people who apply for benefits such as Medicaid.
However, those entities would have 30 days to fix the problem before a lawsuit moves forward.
More than 100 people gathered outside the state Capitol during discussion on the floor to protest the bill.
HB 87 will now be considered by the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a Republican from Woodstock, said Ramsey's bill is more comprehensive than a similar bill proposed by Sen. Jack Murphy, which on Wednesday passed a Senate committee.