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Georgia revisits legal restrictions on illegal aliens

- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) -- There have been no protests on the steps of the Georgia Capitol like those that greeted the state's sweeping immigration legislation last year. But quietly, and in piecemeal fashion, state lawmakers have been working around the edges to crack down again on aliens in the country illegally.

Georgia made international headlines last spring when it passed some of the toughest laws in the U.S. targeting illegal aliens within its borders. Those laws included provisions to sanction employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and deny some state services -- such as nonemergency medical care and unemployment checks -- to adults who can't verify that they're in the country legally.

A flurry of smaller proposals has been moving through the state legislature this year, including several that would make it tougher for illegal aliens to drive in Georgia.

"This is an issue that I hear from my constituents all the time about," said state Rep. Timothy Bearden, a Republican from Villa Rica, who wants to require all state forms to be in English only.

"The federal government has been derelict in their duty, and until they do something, I guess it's going to be left up to us here in the states," he said.

State Sen. Chip Rogers was the author last year of the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act. Most provisions of that law aren't set to take effect until July, and Mr. Rogers said he doesn't foresee another comprehensive immigration bill until the effects of that legislation can be judged.

"But there is still room to do other things," said the Republican from Woodstock, a north Atlanta suburb.

Last week, a proposal by Mr. Rogers coasted through the state Senate that would require Georgians to obtain a valid state driver's license before they can get their car licensed. To get a Georgia driver's license, residents must already verify that they are in the country legally.

Mr. Rogers portrayed it as a public safety measure but acknowledged that it would make it harder for people in the country illegally to get behind the wheel, because their vehicles wouldn't have valid plates and would be easy for law enforcement to spot and stop.

The measure passed unanimously without debate. It moves to the House, which like the state Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the measures are little more than a backhanded way to go again after illegal aliens.

"In some ways, it's worse than last year because it's sneakier," he said.

Mr. Gonzalez said the measures under consideration would drive the state's growing Hispanic population deeper underground and discourage them from cooperating with law enforcement.

But Republican backers of the new proposals say they are needed to close loopholes.

The crackdown is coming not just from the state legislature. Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, announced during his re-election bid that 10 new investigators would be placed at driver services centers -- where driver's licenses are issued -- that are thought to be at the highest risk for receiving forged documents.