A bill passed by the Georgia Legislature in its waning hours will overhaul the state's approach to illegal immigrants and likely have a local impact on construction and agriculture.
"It's going to be a problem," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said, adding that he sees Hispanic workers - their legal status unknown to him - crowding city street corners in the early-morning hours waiting for builders to pick them up for a day's work.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Columbia County had nearly 3,000 Hispanic residents, more than 560 of whom legally reside in Grovetown.
The Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act is awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature, Heather Hedrick, a spokeswoman for the governor's office, said Friday.
If signed into law, the bill would crack down on illegal immigration by requiring verification of legal status for anyone working on a government-funded project. It also would hold employers responsible by taking away their ability to deduct payroll taxes without proper documents for workers.
"It would probably hurt the whole building industry," said Scott Anderson, owner of Preferred Landscape Management. Anderson said he uses many Hispanic workers in his landscape crews. "I think it would hurt when it comes to framers and brick layers to people (who) work in the agricultural fields. I think it would put a halt to a lot of that stuff over the whole U.S."
Georgia had relatively few unauthorized, or illegal, Hispanic residents in 1990, but experience rapid growth of that population in the following decade, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Naturalization Service. The roughly 34,000 unauthorized Hispanic residents in the state reported in 1990 rose to 228,000 in 2000.
Mark Herbert, owner of Herbert Homes Inc., said he expects the bill to affect the construction industry, though he doesn't employ anyone who does not provide proper documentation, especially subcontractors who often use Hispanic crews.
"If we don't have copies of a driver's license and Social Security and all the information, we don't hire anybody," Herbert said.
Anderson said all of his workers have provided documentation as legal residents of the U.S.
The bill will require all employers to verify the identification of workers making more than $600 a year or not use the income as a business tax deduction. Businesses would not be required to verify whether workers turn in forged identification. The legislation would grant passes to undocumented workers already hired on local and state projects because the verification process would not start until July 1, 2007.
The bill would also deny some tax-funded public benefits for illegal immigrants unless they can prove they are legally living in the state.
"The bottom line is it costs our society money when people are here illegally and not paying into the system they are attempting to benefit from," said state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who voted for the bill. "We've got to start to get a handle on that."
The bill would require local law enforcement authorities to verify the nationality of anyone charged with a felony or driving under the influence and notify federal Homeland Security officials of anyone who is not legally in the country.
"I agree that something has to be done," Trudeau said.
Hedrick said the governor has 40 calendar days after the last day of the legislative session, which was Thursday, to consider the bill.
She said the governor is expected to sign or veto the bill by early May.
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