Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill modeled after Arizona's controversial 2010 anti-immigration measure, despite significant opposition from business leaders and some religious leaders.
The bill signed by the Georgia governor will punish immigrants for using false identification with up to 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Calling his action "a rather historic moment," Deal said, "While I believe immigration is an issue that can ideally be identified and addressed – and should be addressed – at the federal level, this legislation I believe is a responsible step forward in the absence of federal action."
The Georgia legislature passed an anti-immigrant bill in April that will punish immigrants for using false identification with up to 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The bill will empower law enforcement to check citizenship status at traffic stops.
House Bill 87 passed the House of Representatives on a 112-to-59 vote. The Georgia Senate bill passed on a 37-to-19 vote.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau executive committee passed unanimously a resolution opposing HB 87.
"The loss of potential revenues associated with conventions and tourism would have an adverse effect on Atlanta's economy and the businesses and employees directly and indirectly associated with Atlanta's hospitality industry," said the resolution.
The resolution called the bill "unwelcoming" and warned that it would "tarnish" the city's reputation, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Bob Hope, a member of the Atlanta Sports Council, told USA Today that the bill "presents us as a bigoted city, or a bigoted state. Nationally, people can easily look at the bill and say there are uncomfortable issues relative to coming to Atlanta and Georgia. It hurts."
Atlanta Progressive News (APN) reported that the bill was opposed by the Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Hotel and Hospitality Association.
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The Catholic bishops of Georgia issued a pastoral statement that noted how the "destructive climate" in their state over immigration had "further deteriorated" over the past several years.
"[W]e urge our Georgia state representatives to resist the imposition of harsh and unnecessary legislation affecting all residents of Georgia, further tearing apart the fabric of our communities and jeopardizing our future," read the statement.
"The bill was supported by anti-immigration groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which is listed as a hate group; the extreme right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); the Ku Klux Klan; and the Correction Corporation of America (CCA), which stands to make record profits from this law," said APN.
Supporting the bill was state Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), who is the owner of a Christian publishing house widely used by churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a moderate Baptist organization.
Staton identifies himself as a member of the CBF-related Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.
A member of the CBF-affiliated First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Deal said during his 2010 gubernatorial race: "I agree with the Arizona governor and legislature that the federal government has failed miserably at protecting our borders and enacting sensible solutions that would protect our states, counties and cities from bearing the enormous costs associated with illegal immigration, from emergency room visits to public schools to the criminal justice system."
As a U.S. congressman, Deal introduced the "Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009."
That bill would have removed the birthright of U.S. citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants but allowed it if one parent were a U.S. citizen.