ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, calling it ``a rather historic moment,'' on Friday signed a bill that cracks down on illegal immigration in the state by increasing some enforcement powers and requiring many employers to check the immigration status of new hires.
The new law the subject of heated debate in the Legislature shares some similarities to a controversial law enacted last year in Arizona and another enacted this year in Utah. Part or all of those two laws have been blocked by federal judges, and opponents have said they'll sue to try to block Georgia's law.
It authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of certain suspects and to detain them if they are in the country illegally. It penalizes people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
Most parts of the new law are set to enter into effect July 1. A requirement for private employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires is set to be phased in, with all employers with more than 10 employees required to comply by July 2013.
Opponents of the measure say it could lead to racial profiling and could harm the state's economy, while supporters say it's necessary because illegal immigrants are a drain on Georgia's resources.
A federal judge blocked some provisions of Arizona's law last year after the federal government sued, and an appeals court upheld that decision last month. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday the state plans to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a similar law enacted this year in Utah after civil liberties groups sued to keep it from entering into effect. That judge cited similarities to the most controversial parts of Arizona's law. A hearing is set for mid-July to determine whether an injunction will be issued or the law can go into effect.
(Please check back for updates to this developing story.)