ATLANTA -- Georgia lawmakers considering a bill that seeks to crack down on illegal immigration in the state heard varied reactions from about 30 people Friday, the final day for public testimony on the proposal.
The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee opened the floor for public comment on a bill proposed by state Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City. The committee already heard on Tuesday from representatives of special interest groups.
Ramsey's bill, and another introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, would require law enforcement officers who stop a criminal suspect to verify the person's immigration status if they believe he or she is in the country illegally. The bill would allow officers to arrest illegal immigrants and take them to a federal detention facility.
Ramsey's bill also would require all employers with more than five workers to verify the legal status of new hires using a federal database called E-Verify.
Ev Howe, an Air Force veteran, said he interacts regularly with illegal immigrants through his work as an English teacher at his church.
"I feel like I've been sent back in time to the years of the '50s and '60s," he said. "This bill makes me kind of ill."
He went through the bill section by section, pointing out parts he said would encourage racial profiling, prompt frivolous lawsuits and punish people who are transporting illegal immigrants as part of charitable work.
Other speakers included regular citizens, lawyers who deal regularly with illegal immigrants, a sheriff's captain from Gwinnett County and several activists, among others.
Sean McKenzie, a high school teacher from Calhoun, said he's taught numerous students who were in the country illegally. He urged the committee to reject the bill, saying that it would harm young people whose parents brought them here in search of a better life.
"If it was you and it was your children and you were born on the wrong side of the border, and you had the dilemma 'What am I going to do?Am I going to obey the government or am I going to provide for my children?' What would you do?" he said.
Others were less sympathetic.
Andrea Lyle, of Fayetteville, said that her husband was laid off two years ago, and that they're in danger of losing their house. She's been looking for a job as a secretary for four years but keeps getting discouraged by ads seeking someone who speaks Spanish, she said.
"I feel inferior, I feel intimidated," she said. "These type of ads are only hurting citizens who have contributed for years, working here in the state of Georgia."
Robert Ross, a retired Army officer, also voiced his support for the bill. He and his family lived in several foreign countries, including Panama, South Korea, China and Japan, and he supports legal immigration, he said.
"I oppose illegal aliens in Georgia because it's unlawful conduct. It erodes our society by flouting the law," he said. "It's expensive and certainly it's patently unfair to past, present and future aliens who obey the law."
Ramsey has said his bill is a work in progress and that adjustments are likely before the committee votes on it. Committee chairman state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, said anyone else who wants to comment on the bill may submit written testimony to the committee.