In the state that many say is poised to adopt the strictest illegal immigration law in the country, a group opposed to the measure is conducting a week-long walk through Georgia to protest it.
Drawn from a diverse coalition of religious organizations and comparing themselves to "religious pilgrims," opponents of the bill kicked off the walk on Sunday and plan to wend their way through Georgia through Friday, which is Good Friday, when it will culminate at the Georgia Capitol.
The group plans to cross Gainesville, Gwinnett County, Alpharetta, Cumming, Chamblee, Cartersville, Cobb County and Atlanta.
On Friday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who is Republican, said he'll sign the measure, which includes elements similar to a contentious law enacted in Arizona last year. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld a federal district court's decision to block parts of Arizona's immigration law. The U.S. Justice Department sued to block the law, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution because enforcing immigration law is a federal issue.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Deal said the legislation "sends a signal that the citizens of our state believe the rule of law in important."
The bill passed late Thursday, hours before the end of Georgia's 2011 legislative session. Georgia is home to an estimated 480,000 undocumented immigrants.
Deal said he did not think Georgia measure would lead to boycotts or harm businesses, as it evidently has done in Arizona.
He says he hopes it will "send a message to members of Congress that it's time for them to get serious about the issue."
Among other provisions, it authorizes law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects and allows them to detain those found to be in the country illegally. It would also penalize people who "knowingly and intentionally" transport or harbor undocumented immigrants, and would require employers with 10 or more employees to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.
Proponents of such strict measures say states must take the matter of immigration into their own hands because the federal government repeatedly has failed to do so. They say states increasingly are bearing the costs of illegal immigration.
Those who oppose these measures say immigration must remain a federal matter, and that the solution to illegal immigration is comprehensive reform of the current system. Comprehensive reform, they say, must address better enforcement of immigration laws, as well ways to help certain undocumented immigrants get on a path to legalization.
Activist groups against the Georgia measure last week delivered a petition that they said had more than 23,000 signatures to Deal to urge him to veto the bill.
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.