published Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Georgia Senate votes to pass immigration bill

A worker plants Vidalia onions on a farm in Lyons, Ga.  (AP File Photo/David Goldman, File)
A worker plants Vidalia onions on a farm in Lyons, Ga. (AP File Photo/David Goldman, File)

ATLANTA — The Georgia state Senate on Monday voted to pass an amended version of an immigration bill that would require many employers to check the immigration status of new hires and authorize police to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects.

The bill proposed by Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, passed largely on a party-line vote, 34-21. Another bill proposed by Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, that has some similarities passed in the House earlier this month.

Presenting his bill on the Senate floor, Murphy said the bill is needed because people are frustrated with the federal government’s failure to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Opponents of the bill argued it would have a negative impact on the state’s economy and could lead to racial profiling.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, proposed one of the most significant amendments to Murphy’s bill. In the version of the bill Murphy presented to the Senate, employers who use certain federal work visa programs to bring in foreign workers would not have to use a federal database to check the status of those workers. Rogers’ amendment would eliminate that exemption, closing what he said was a “large loophole.”

That exemption was created so farmers and others who used the visa programs to bring in seasonal workers would not have the added burden of running new hires through the federal E-Verify database, Murphy said. Still, Murphy was pleased the measure passed.

Now that immigration bills have passed both chambers of the Legislature, Rogers said the bills likely will go to a joint committee to hash out some differences.

Ramsey’s bill is twice as long and more comprehensive than Murphy’s.

It contains some tough language and penalties not included in Murphy’s bill. Ramsey’s legislation would penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants, a measure he has said is aimed at punishing smugglers and human traffickers. It would also make it a felony to “willfully and fraudulently” present false documentation when applying for a job. That felony would carry a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine.

While both bills have E-Verify requirements, Ramsey’s requires employers to prove that they are enrolled in the program before they can obtain or renew a business license or other documents required to operate a business. Murphy’s bill, meanwhile, says employers can’t exempt the wages of employees on their state income tax returns unless they use E-Verify.

Public employers and those with public works contracts have been required to use E-Verify for several years now. Ramsey’s bill allows individuals to sue local governments and agencies that fail to comply with that requirement. However, those entities would have 30 days to fix the problem before a lawsuit moves forward. Murphy’s bill doesn’t include that provision.

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