ATLANTA – Following Arizona’s lead, the Georgia Legislature on Thursday passed a strict measure that would empower police to check the immigration status of “criminal” suspects and force many businesses to do the same with potential employees.
The bill passed in the waning hours of the legislative session despite critics’ outcries. Immigrant advocates threatened a state boycott if it became law, and Georgia’s powerful agricultural industry warned, among other things, that federal guest worker programs alone could not provide enough laborers to meet farmers’ needs.
Now the measure heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who campaigned last year on the promise of implementing an Arizona-style law in a state with, according to one 2009 estimate, 480,000 illegal immigrants – about 20,000 more than Arizona.
Since his election, however, Deal has warned that immigration laws should not place an “undue burden” on employers, raising concerns among foes of illegal immigration that he was wobbling.
In a provision with rough similarities to the most contentious part of the Arizona law, the Georgia bill gives police the authority to check a suspect’s immigration status if the suspect is unable to produce a valid ID and if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a “criminal offense.” If the person is verified as an illegal immigrant, police can detain that person or notify federal authorities.