published Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Georgia bill to limit illegal workers presented at hearing

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    A worker plants Vidalia onions on a farm in Lyons, Ga. A Georgia state lawmaker on Thursday filed legislation that targets illegal immigrants in the work force and is drawing criticism from the state's No. 1 industry, agriculture. (AP File Photo/David Goldman, File)

ATLANTA — A Georgia lawmaker who has proposed a law that would crack down on illegal immigrants in the state went through his bill section by section Friday, taking questions from fellow members of a House committee.

State Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Peachtree City Republican, made clear during a hearing before the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee that the "Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011" is a work in progress. He said he welcomes anyone — including members of the public and special interest groups — with ideas or concerns about the legislation to speak to him.

The committee plans to take up the legislation again Tuesday, when it will open the floor for public comment.

Ramsey said he's already made changes in the bill's language since he introduced it last week, mostly technical changes following consultation with legal experts to try to protect the bill from legal challenges.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia already is threatening such a challenge. The group on Friday called on state lawmakers to reject any bill that is similar to a controversial law enacted in Arizona last year and said it would challenge the laws in court if they were to enter into effect.

Ramsey's bill and another filed Thursday by state Sen. Jack Murphy, a Republican from Cumming, both include some provisions that mirror Arizona's law. A federal judge blocked similar provisions in the Arizona law last year after the federal government filed a lawsuit.

"The proposed bills are unconstitutional and violate core American values," said executive director of the ACLU of Georgia Debbie Seagraves. "The ACLU of Georgia will challenge such racial profiling legislation if passed in Georgia."

The ACLU argues that the bills encourage law enforcement officers to use racial profiling as a tool.

Both Ramsey and Murphy have dismissed fears of racial profiling, saying there are specific provisions in the bill to guard against it.

Ramsey said during the hearing that he believes the most important part of his bill is the part that requires all employers in the state to run new hires through a federal database called E-Verify to check their eligibility to work in the U.S. He said that would eliminate the main incentive for illegal immigrants to come to Georgia, namely jobs.

A parallel goal of the bill is to give law enforcement officers greater tools to identify illegal immigrants and handle immigration issues, he said.

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