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Bill targets employers that hire illegals

LAWRENCEVILLE - The way to solve the state's illegal immigration influx, one local legislator believes, is to make it harder for undocumented workers to find a job.

Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn, filed House Bill 961 to force employers to check on immigrants' status before they are hired.

While Thomas says his proposal may not get much support, legislators have promised that illegal immigration will be a hot topic under the Gold Dome during the General Assembly session.

Other bills floated so far would deny taxpayer-funded services to illegals, including food stamps and non-emergency medical care and prohibit the state from hiring contractors that employ illegal immigrants.

Thomas, though, said the solution to the problem lies in the employers.

"There is only one reason that illegal immigrants are here in Georgia, and it has absolutely nothing to do with emergency medical care, public schools or any other public assistance benefits that may or may not be out there," he said. "Simply put, they come to Georgia for jobs. Therefore, if we want to stop the flood of illegal immigrants into the state, we need to hold those who hire them responsible for breaking the law, which would drastically reduce the incentives for illegal immigrants to come."

The bill requires employers to verify and document employees' eligibility before they are hired and authorizes the state to inspect the documents and other records, including payroll. It also requires all employers to participate in a federal program designed to verify employee identities.

"Until we are ready to hold employers responsible, there isn't a thing we can do to stop the flood of illegal immigration into our state," he said.

Ed Phillips of the Home Builders Association of Georgia said his lobbying organization was not ready to comment on the proposal.

"There's been a great deal of activity in Congress this week," he said. "We're kind of waiting on the dust to settle."

Phillips said the biggest question he has about such bills is how they would deal with subcontractors. Builders, he said, could follow the law but still get in trouble for hiring subcontractors that violate it.

Phillips said there also is a question as to whether the states have any jurisdiction on illegal immigration matters.

Thomas said he doesn't expect to get a lot of support from political leaders because of the strong business interests involved, and he said there would be dramatic economic consequences.

"Some businesses will lose profits, and we will all feel the impact in higher costs for housing, food and many goods and services. That is the reality of the situation, but it is what it will take to solve the problem," he said. "We should not kid ourselves into thinking that keeping illegal immigrants out of emergency rooms or classrooms is going to solve it for us."