Georgia Immigration Law Goes (Mostly) Into Effect Amid Confusion

A new law targeting undocumented immigrants has gone into effect in Georgia, though some of the most controversial parts are on hold after a federal judge blocked them pending further review of the measure's constitutionality.

At the moment, the law is going into the effect amid a lot of confusion.

State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, said she's gotten a lot of calls from constituents -- including landscapers, roofers and farmers -- who have questions about the new law.

"It's been a confusing law from the beginning for a number of people in my area," she said. "After the ruling, it was like, well, now what does it mean."

Judge Thomas Thrash on Monday granted a request by civil liberties groups to block two sections of the law until a lawsuit they filed challenging its constitutionality can be resolved.

"There is confusion about the law, about the judge's decision and about what is going into effect," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

One of those sections authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects without proper identification and to detain illegal immigrants. The other creates a state penalty for people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.

The parts of the law that take effect Friday include:

-- A new felony offense with hefty penalties for using false information or documentation when applying for a job;

-- The creation of an immigration review board to investigate complaints about government officials not complying with state laws related to illegal immigration;

-- Fines and possible removal from office for any public official who fails to use federal databases to verify the immigration status of new hires or applicants for public benefits;

-- Instructions for the state Agriculture Department to study the effects of immigration on that sector, to suggest improvements for federal guest worker programs and to study the possibility of a state guest worker program.

Starting Jan. 1:

-- Businesses with 500 or more employees will have to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires, a requirement that will be phased in for all businesses with more than 10 employees by July 2013.

-- Applicants for public benefits will have to provide at least one state or federally issued "secure and verifiable" document. The state attorney general must provide a list of such documents by Aug. 1.

The law's main sponsor, Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, has repeatedly said the requirement for businesses to use E-Verify to weed out those who are ineligible to work in this country is the most important section of the law because a large part of what draws illegal immigrants to the state is jobs.

Buckner said she supports fixing the broken immigration system but fears that the law is too complicated and that small business owners and farmers may be punished for unintentionally violating it. She'd like to see a website or handout provided to let businesses know exactly what their responsibilities are under the new law.

Though there is relief in immigrant communities that two sections of the law were blocked, there is still much concern and uncertainty, Gonzalez said. At a meeting at an Atlanta-area apartment complex Wednesday night, Gonzalez said there was a lot of concern about the new felony offense for using false documents and whether it is safe to interact with police or if people's immigration status will be checked.

The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and other immigrant outreach groups are organizing a "Day Without Immigrants" Friday to protest the law. They are encouraging immigrants and their supporters to stay home from work and not to buy anything. And on Saturday, opponents of the law plan to rally at the state Capitol to speak out against the new law.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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