Ga.  governor signs stringent immigration bill
The Associated Press

 ATLANTA - Georgia's governor signed a sweeping immigration bill Monday that supporters and critics say gives the state some of the toughest measures against illegal immigrants in the nation.

"I want to make this clear: we are not, Georgia's government is not, and this bill is not, anti-immigrant," Gov. Sunny Perdue said at the signing.

"We simply believe that everyone who lives in our state needs to abide by our laws."
The law requires verification that adults seeking many state-administered benefits are in the country legally. It sanctions employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and mandates that companies with state contracts check the immigration status of employees.

The law also requires police to check the immigration status of people they arrest.

The measure is believed to be the first comprehensive immigration package to make it through a statehouse this session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many of the new law's provisions will not take effect until July 1, 2007.

The bill drew protests at Georgia's state Capitol and prompted a daylong work stoppage by thousands of immigrants.

Tisha Tallman, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said she was studying potential legal challenges to the bill.

The new law will not affect emergency medical care and educational benefits for those in kindergarten through 12th grade, which federal courts have said must be provided regardless of immigration status.

Exemptions were also added for some other services like prenatal care and the treatment of communicable diseases.

The move to tighten rules in Georgia comes as lawmakers in Washington wrestle with competing proposals to shore up controls at the border, create a guest worker program and create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States.

Outside the Capitol on Monday, a few hundred supporters of the legislation applauded loudly when word came that Perdue was signing the proposal.

The crowd waved American flags and cheered as state Rep. Melvin Everson, one of the Georgia House's two black Republicans, denounced illegal immigration as a cancer and proclaimed: "The last time I checked, America was the land of English - not Spanish."

And they hollered as Republican state Sen. Chip Rogers, the bill's author, called it "the strongest single bill in America dealing with illegal immigration - bar none."

At the bill signing, Rogers said he has been approached by lawmakers from South Carolina and Colorado who were interested in crafting similar proposals for their states.