Tougher stance on llegal immigration approved

Georgia’s House on Monday passed legislation that would expand the state’s 2011 crackdown on illegal immigration.

By a vote of 111-58, the House approved Senate Bill 160. Among other things, the legislation is aimed at:

  • Blocking illegal immigrants from obtaining state driver’s licenses and homestead tax exemptions.
  • Preventing people from using foreign passports to obtain public benefits in Georgia, unless those passports include documents confirming they are legally in the U.S.
  • Making all city, county and state government agencies 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.
  • Fixing some unintended consequences from Georgia’s 2011 immigration law. 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.

Similar legislation – House Bill 125 — is pending in the Senate. The House bill does not contain many of SB 160’s provisions, including the ones dealing with driver’s licenses, homestead tax exemptions, foreign passports and E-Verify requirements for smaller government agencies.

A Senate committee stripped those provisions from HB 125 last week. Then a House committee inserted those provisions in SB 160. The different bills are likely headed to a conference committee, where legislators from both chambers would seek a compromise.

HB 125’s sponsor — Republican Rep. Dustin Hightower of Carrollton — spoke in favor of SB 160 moments before the House vote Monday.

“I believe the bill that you have in front of you is a much improved bill from what we originally had,” Hightower said.

Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, urged the House to vote against the bill, warning it could damage the state’s reputation. He also suggested some of the provisions in the bill could become unenforceable if Congress overhauls the nation’s immigration system as expected this year.

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