Last Updated On: 2/4/2011 6:37:47 PM
ATLANTA — If you want to know how much interest there is in an Arizona-style illegal immigration law in Georgia, you should have been at Friday’s meeting of the State House Judiciary Committee.
So many people showed up that the committee room quickly filled to overflowing, well beyond the 60 person fire limit.
Extra security was on hand as the crowd spilled over into two other committee rooms to watch the testimony on large computer screens.
HB 87 from State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) became the first of two illegal immigration bills to have a hearing this session.
The other, SB 40 by State Senator Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), was introduced on Thursday.
Rep. Ramsey defended his bill as necessary because he says the federal government is not doing its job.
He insists lawmakers would be abdicating their duty if they didn’t do something about more than 425,000 illegal immigrants who he claims are siphoning off $2.4 billion in state and local services.
“It’s burdening our schools; it’s burdening our transportation infrastructure; it’s burdening our law enforcement community; it’s burdening our health care system,” he testified.
Because his bill would allow local police to question the citizenship of criminal suspects, the American Civil Liberties Union is already threatening a possible lawsuit.
“If there are provisions that encourage racial profiling, we are committed to challenging the legislation,” said the ACLU’s Azadeh Shahshahsani.
Ramsey said he expects a legal challenge, but he and his supporters think they can win.
“This bill will work, and it will do the job to help Georgians and to help Americans with this illegal alien problem,” said American Legion member Arnie Gieger, who attended the hearing.
Some immigration lawyers, like Charles Kuck, give Ramsey credit for continuing to re-write his bill to try and avoid some of Arizona’s legal problems.
“There’re still many changes that need to be made to make this bill workable in the society in which we live,” Kuck said. “I have no doubt that something’s going to pass out of the legislature.”
With about two more months left in this year’s legislative session, lawmakers say they will continue to work on the bill.
But just about everyone agrees that whatever comes out of the Gold Dome will probably end up in court.