Governor Nathan Deal has signed the state’s controversial immigration bill. The bill is similar to an Arizona statute targeting illegal immigrants that's under constitutional review.
Surrounded by fellow Republican lawmakers, Deal signed the bill at the state Capitol, saying it was a historic day for Georgia.
The law requires firms with 11 employees or more to use the federal “e-verify” employment system. It also allows the police to check the immigration status of some criminal suspects.
A federal judge has halted portions of the Arizona law, pending constitutional review. Deal said he expects legal challenges but says Georgia’s law is different.
“As many of you are aware, this legislation went through several iterations, and thanks to the diligence and hard work of the General Assembly, the final product avoids many of the pitfalls that have been alleged to exist in Arizona’s legislation,” he said.
Atlanta lawyer Charles Kuck says both laws are unconstitutional because they compel federal immigration officials to act. He plans to sue for an injunction this month.
The statute allows the police to check the immigration status of some criminal suspects. And by doing so, Kuck says the law gives the state powers reserved for the federal government. He added, the law puts the state into the position of telling the federal government how to expend its resources.
“The Arizona statue provision on ‘show me your papers’ was struck down because of the effect it had on the federal government," he said on the steps of the Capitol after the bill was signed. "That is, it required the use of federal government resources in order to carry into effect that provision. The same effect is here. It still requires federal government resources.”
Most provisions of the law will go into effect July 1.
Many business groups have reservations about the bill. Tourism groups fear a boycott similar to the one affecting Arizona. Some agricultural groups say farmers may have trouble finding enough manual labor to harvest crops if the bill is strictly enforced.
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, including eggplant, Vidalia onions, peaches and blueberries.
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.
Hall said much will be determined by how the state implements the law. But he adds the bill could also spark a manual labor war with states like Florida that don’t use e-verify.
Rep. Matt Ramsey, the Peachtree City Republican who sponsored the bill in the General Assembly, has said the legislation will open farming jobs back up to locals. But Hall said American-born workers don't want the physically-grueling agriculture jobs that migrant workers fill.
"You just can't get the workers in rural South Georgia," Hall said.
Deal and others say the federal government should take action on enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But since it has not, states such as Georgia and Arizona have been forced to act. They also say the law only targets immigrants who are breaking the law, not all immigrants or any specific ethnic group.