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Bill aims to stop state from hiring illegal immigrants

ATLANTA - The head of the General Assembly's immigration caucus vowed Wednesday to aggressively push legislation that would prohibit the state from hiring contractors that employ illegal immigrants.

The bill is part of a package introduced this year by Sen. Chip Rogers that also would deny taxpayer-funded services to illegals and prohibit illegal immigrants from enrolling in Georgia's university system.

During a news conference last September, Senate Republican leaders said they would make the bill stopping illegals from receiving taxpayer-funded services their top priority and put the others aside for now.

Since then, however, both civil rights groups and opponents of illegal immigration have taken lawmakers to task for failing to go after employers who hire illegal workers.

"I think it would be unfortunate to have a policy discussion about illegal immigrants apply only to benefits,'' said Rogers, R-Woodstock, chairman of the Joint House and Senate Immigration Caucus. "We need to look at everything.''

But Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said the only portion of Rogers' package of bills on which Republicans have reached consensus is the measure denying taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal immigrants.

He said the bill aimed at state contractors raises issues that must be worked out before it's likely to garner enough support to pass, including whether the state should make business owners responsible for screening the people they hire.

"How does an employer know if the documentation they're looking at is valid?'' Johnson asked. "I have no problem with tightening down on businesses as long as we're not trying to make businesses a branch of the INS (federal Immigration and Naturalization Service).''

"How much can we micromanage a subcontractor?'' added Rep. Judy Manning, R-Marietta, a member of the immigration caucus.

Rogers acknowledged that it wouldn't be fair for the state to ask contractors to make sure every subcontractor involved in a project they're overseeing isn't hiring illegal immigrants. But he said the state should set an example with its hiring policies.

"If we're going to do something on the employment side, I suggest the state take the lead ... so we can claim we're not part of the problem,'' he said.

Rogers said he also will introduce a resolution during the upcoming legislative session authorizing state or local law enforcement agencies to apply for federal funds to train their officers in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Current law requires those agencies to pay for the training.