By KATE BRUMBACK and RAY HENRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) - Democratic lawmakers said Monday they will seek to repeal a law that launched a crackdown last year on illegal immigrants in Georgia, but their small caucus lacks the votes to overturn it in the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
Rep. Pedro Marin and Rep. Lynmore James plan to sponsor the repeal, though they have not yet submitted the necessary legislation. The repeal will be among the top priorities of an agenda that Democrats plan to unveil at a news conference Tuesday.
"I believe we have a broken system in immigration," Marin said in an interview. "I can see that we need to fix it, but again, immigration is a federal issue and the last thing we want to have is each state doing their own thing."
Marin said the crackdown was harming the ability of the agriculture and manufacturing sectors to find workers in the middle of an already weak economy. His co-sponsor, James, is a farmer who said in a statement that families cannot afford "to have politicians playing with their food."
The agriculture industry has complained that the crackdown has discouraged Hispanic field hands, including many who are illegal immigrants, from coming to Georgia to harvest labor-intensive fruits and vegetables.
The Democratic caucus has scheduled a hearing Thursday where its members will hear about the effects of the crackdown in rural towns. Farmers have complained of labor problems since the law passed last year, though Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, a Republican, said earlier this month it wasn't clear whether any of the reported shortages were a direct result of the law.
Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, accused illegal immigrants of financially burdening the state and said the supporters of the crackdown "will oppose any effort to diminish its provisions."
Starting this year, the law requires that businesses with 500 or more employees use a federal database called E-Verify to check whether new hires are eligible to legally work in the country. That requirement will be gradually expanded to include companies with 10 or more employees by July 2013.
The law makes it a felony crime with hefty penalties to use false information or documents when applying for a job. It created an immigration review board to investigate complaints about government officials not complying with state laws related to immigration. Public officials can be fined or even removed from office if they fail to the use the federal E-Verify database to verify the eligibility of new hires or those who apply for public assistance, such as food stamps.
A federal judge in June blocked parts of Georgia's law pending the outcome of a legal challenge filed by immigrant rights and civil liberties groups. One of the blocked sections authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects who don't have proper identification and to detain illegal immigrants. The other creates a state penalty for people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.
The state has challenged the judge's decision to block those parts of the law, and a hearing on the injunction is set for March 1 in a federal appeals court.