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Thursday, May 12, 2011 - 12:13pm

Lawyers Prepare To Block Immigration Bill

Governor Nathan Deal is expected to sign the state’s immigration bill this week. But immigration lawyers are already gearing up to sue to stop the law.

Georgia lawmakers modeled the bill on an Arizona statute. A federal judge has halted portions of that law pending constitutional review.

The writers of Georgia’s law worked to keep out problematic elements from that bill. For example, unlike the Arizona law, Georgia’s measure would require only firms with more than 10 employees to use the federal “e-verify” employment check system, rather than all businesses.

But Atlanta lawyer Charles Kuck says both laws violate the U.S. Constitution.

“Only the federal government can regulate these specific areas: the employment of aliens, the transporting and harboring of aliens in the United States, the use of e-verify, the federal government database,” Kuck said Thursday. "Only the federal government has the right, as it pertains to aliens, to regulate these specific areas."

Kuck said he plans to sue for a preliminary injunction once Deal signs the measure.

Gov. Deal says he thinks Georgia will avoid the reaction Arizona's law has garnered.

“I believe the General Assembly was very careful to look at what was in the Arizona statute and to not include some of the provisions that were the most controversial in that state’s law," he said Monday. "They are not included in the Georgia statute. So I think we have avoided much of the criticism that Arizona heard.”

The bill’s proponents say the federal government has failed to regulate the influx of illegal immigrants. They say that’s forced states such as Georgia and Arizona to pass tougher state immigration laws.

Deal is expected to sign the bill before leaving for an economic development trip to Europe Saturday. He will be attending the Georgia Republican Party State Convention, which kicks off Friday.

It remains unclear what impact the law will have on Georgia's agriculture industry. Farmers say they won’t know until the state fully implements it. And some have suggested lawmakers watered down the bill so that part-time manual laborers on most farms will be exempt.

But some agriculture experts say it may change what crops the state produces.

Earlier this week, Charles Hall, head of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, says if farmers can’t employ large numbers of migrant workers they may stop growing some of the state's signature crops.

That would include "squash, cukes, tomatoes, eggplant, Vidalia onions, and any fruit we grow in Georgia, and we grow peaches, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries. You know, potentially it could affect production levels for those,” he said.

Such crops are sold to the public at farmers markets and supermarkets, Hall said, and that means they can't have any of the bruises or scrapes that mechanical harvesters can produce.

Instead, Hall says farmers could switch to so-called row crops such as cotton and peanuts that machines can harvest. But that would mean the state would cease producing some of its most high-profile crops, including peaches and Vidalia onions.

Hall said much will be determined by how the state implements the law.

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