Illegal immigration crackdown expansion OK’d

Georgia’s Legislature late Thursday night approved an expansion of the state’s 2011 crackdown on illegal immigration.

Passed in the final hours of the General Assembly’s 40-day session, Senate Bill 160 is aimed at blocking illegal immigrants from getting state driver’s licenses, grants, public housing and retirement benefits.

It would also prevent people from using foreign passports to obtain public benefits, unless those passports include records indicating they are in the country legally.

Further, the bill seeks to prevent massive backlogs for professional license renewals. Those backlogs were created by a provision in the 2011 law that requires applicants to show certain forms of “secure and verifiable” identification every time they renew their licenses.

Additionally, SB 160 would require all city, county and state government agencies to require their contractors to use a free online work-authorization program called E-Verify. Government agencies with fewer than two employees are now exempt from this requirement.

In working out differences between similar House and Senate bills, a small committee of lawmakers cut out language seeking to prevent illegal immigrants from getting homestead tax exemptions. Critics worried that provision would bog down tax break applications for tens of thousands of Georgia homeowners.

State lawmakers say the legislation would tighten and clarify the comprehensive immigration bill Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law in 2011. Republican Rep. Dustin Hightower of Carrollton, who sponsored similar House legislation, spoke in favor of SB 160 before the House approved it by a vote of 113-54.

“It also goes a long way in protecting the taxpayers of Georgia by filling a lot of loopholes that were there where illegal immigrants were taking advantage of different public benefits,” he said.

The Senate approved the measure by a 43-9 vote.

Civil and immigrant rights groups fought the measure, arguing it is divisive and would hurt the state’s reputation. They also have predicted parts of it could become moot if Congress approves a comprehensive immigration overhaul as expected this year.

Asked whether the governor would sign SB 160 into law, his spokesman said Deal would review approved legislation starting Friday and comment afterward.

“Gov. Deal is a strong supporter of efforts to prevent illegal immigration and to uphold the rule of law,” said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal.

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