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Panel ready to push immigration bills
Ga. Sen. Miller says proposal could resemble controversial Arizona law
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After wrapping up its final meeting this week, the Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform is prepared for the immigration legislation that is almost certain to come up when the General Assembly meets in January.

Sen. Butch Miller was one of 14 members selected for the committee in September by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston.

The panel was created to study the issue and be prepared to create legislation when the legislature reconvenes Jan. 10.

Miller said the panel has received input from people in different agencies with a stake in the controversial issue.

"There has been a tremendous amount of compelling and compassionate testimony from the entire spectrum of the immigration issue. The committee will continue to hear testimony electronically for the next couple of weeks and then deliver it's findings to the executive branch," Miller said.

"A lot of it centered around allocation of our state's financial resources and the financial impact of immigration on our communities, both large and small, impact on our education system and hospitals."

Miller said the members of the committee now feel prepared to discuss the issue with their colleagues.

"There's definitely going to be legislation about immigration proposed in this upcoming session," Miller said. "Our objective was to get our arms around this.

There's a lot going on, there's a lot to get your arms around. It's been a tremendous opportunity to hear from all sides."

Miller said the legislature could propose a law similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law that requires police officers, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.

"A lot of what's proposed may very well resemble that. But what's proposed and what's passed are two different things," Miller said.

There is already one immigration bill waiting for the General Assembly to address.

Rep. Tom Price, who represents parts of Gwinnett and Fulton counties, has prefiled a bill in the House of Representatives that would amend the official code of Georgia to "reserve postsecondary education benefits to citizens and lawfully present and eligible aliens" and "require verification of the eligibility for such applicants."

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said he doesn't think the panel of Georgia lawmakers took a balanced look at the issue of immigration during their meetings.

"I think they've been a sham. They've only invited people that they wanted to hear about, about enforcement but really no solutions other than enforcement," Gonzalez said. "We all know how dependent Gainesville and the poultry industry is on immigrant labor. ... If they're really going to be cracking down and enforcing, that means they're going to really hurt Gainesville."

Gonzalez said politicians need to consider that if immigrants are driven away, it will hurt Georgia's economy.

"We need to talk about the economic consequences of what they're doing. We're very concerned about it," Gonzalez said.