Protesters lined up outside the governor’s office and there were boycott threats against the state.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • NEW: Mexico says lawmakers have ignored “the many contributions” from immigrants
  • The bill allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status during an investigation
  • Latino groups reject the measure and threaten lawsuits and boycotts

Atlanta (CNN) – Despite protests outside his office and boycott threats, the Georgia governor signed one of the toughest illegal immigration measures enacted by any single state on Friday.

The move, enacted by Governor Nathan Deal about a month after the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature was released, allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations.

HB 87 also imposes prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to $ 1,000 for anyone knowingly transporting illegal immigrants while committing a crime. She also claims that workers convicted of using a fake ID to get jobs could face 15 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000.

“This bill is a responsible step forward if federal action is not taken,” Deal said after the bill was signed. “Illegal immigration is an incredible burden on Georgia taxpayers.”

As throughout the debate, the leaders of the local Latino community railed against the measure. Among them were several dozen people demonstrating in front of the governor’s office at the state capitol on Friday and singing “Shame on you”.

The legislation has resulted in threats of lawsuits and boycotts aimed at enforcing the hand of the government. The Southerners on New Ground group is calling for a national boycott of conventions and vacation trips to Georgia, while a blog post on the Somos Georgia website warned: “Veto HB 87 or Boycott! It’s your choice, Governor Deal !!”

“This is the beginning of a journey that will take a long time,” said Teodoro Maus, president of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, in Atlanta on Friday.

Similar efforts have been made, with some success, against other states that have enacted laws to combat illegal immigration. Nonetheless, laws against illegal immigrants can still be found from coast to coast.

The National Conference of State Legislatures found that in 2010 alone more than 1,400 bills were tabled aimed at giving individual states a stronger role in enforcing immigration. Of these measures, 208 laws were enacted, 10 were vetoed and 138 resolutions passed.

The most famous attempt of this kind was in Arizona. Among other things, this legislation would have required local Arizona law enforcement officers to arrest illegal immigrants and assist them with deportation.

The US Department of Justice sued, arguing that only the federal government has that authority. Last month, a three-judge panel from the US 9th Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department against Governor Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 last year. Brewer has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the court order blocking the enforcement of parts of the law.

Wade Henderson, leader of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights advocacy group, has blown what he called Georgia’s “hideous law”. He said it was a “copycat” of Arizona law and was effectively legalizing racial profiling.

“Georgia’s lawmakers have learned nothing from Arizona’s mistakes,” Henderson said in a statement Friday. “These laws presume everyone is guilty, which contradicts the basic American presumption that the accused are innocent until proven otherwise.”

The Mexican government added on Friday that it “regrets” the deal’s decision to sign the law.

“Legislators and government have ignored the immigrant community’s many contributions to Georgia’s economy and society,” the Mexican government said in a statement.

But some who support Georgia’s legislation – including Deal and Phil Kent, a spokesman for conservative group Americans for Immigration Control – said it was not about discrimination, it was about protecting taxpayers.

“The illegal immigrants in our state have flooded our hospitals and schools,” said Kent. “It’s a very expensive undertaking. We just want to make sure that people are welcome and come here legally. And then we can reduce illegal immigration.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has spoken out against such state-specific measures, including combating them in court, saying that it would be counterproductive from a law enforcement perspective and harmful from an international relations perspective to have up to 50 different immigration policies (one for each state) to have.

Asked about HB 87 by CNN subsidiary WSB last month, Obama defended the federal government’s measures.

“The truth on this matter is that we have done more enforcement than any other government before,” said the president. “We have more border patrols; we have had serious raids on employers who hire undocumented workers.”