ATLANTA – Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed one of the toughest immigration measures in the country on Friday, allowing local police officers to question certain suspects about their immigration status.
The law is similar to actions in Arizona and Utah that have brought legal challenges and economic boycotts. Mr Deal, a Republican, said he would have preferred a major immigration overhaul by the federal government.
“Illegal immigration is a complex and problematic problem and no state can fix it alone,” he said. “We will continue to have a broken system until we have a federal solution. In the meantime, states must act to defend their taxpayers. “
The law comes into force on July 1st. Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, are already considering lawsuits against Georgia. Business groups, including the state chamber of commerce, have expressed concerns that the law will hurt tourism. In Arizona and Utah, court orders have delayed implementation of the law while it is determined to be constitutional.
One of the authors of the Georgian law, Matthew L. Ramsey, a Republican lawmaker, said the measure was written to withstand legal challenges. Legislators put clear guidelines on when police can apply for a suspect’s immigration status, he said. The law allows state and local law enforcement officers to obtain immigration documents from criminal suspects and, if they fail to obtain them, take the suspect to prisons where federal officials could begin the deportation process.
“States do not have the legal authority to deport. We don’t have the legal authority to secure our borders, ”said Ramsey. “Our goal, however, is to remove incentives for illegal aliens to invade our state within a constitutional framework.”
The law also creates stricter requirements for companies hiring workers and stricter penalties for anyone hosting or employing an illegal immigrant. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are 425,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia, the seventh largest of any state. Two other southern states, Alabama and South Carolina, are also considering similar immigration laws, which are expected by many experts this year.
Tom Smith, a finance professor at Emory University, said Georgia companies were bracing for the impact. Some studies suggest Arizona law cost the state up to $ 250 million in congressional business, he said.
“People look at history in Arizona and think, ‘Could a law in Georgia have the same effect?’ Said Professor Smith, “We’re waiting to see if this will happen in Georgia now.”