ATLANTA — Georgia's Republican governor signed Friday a tough new state law cracking down on illegal immigrants that is similar to one enacted in Arizona last year, handing new powers to police in the southern U.S. state.
The law authorizes police in Georgia to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects they think may be in the country illegally. It also requires many private employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers on a federal database called E-Verify.
Enforcement of U.S. immigration laws traditionally is handled by federal, not state, authorities. The Georgia measure is the latest to gain favor among Republicans at the state level who accuse Democratic President Barack Obama and the federal government of failing to stem illegal immigration.
Gov. Nathan Deal said the measure, passed by Georgia's Republican-controlled Legislature, will take the burden off Georgia's schools, hospitals and prisons by reducing the number of illegal immigrants in the state.
"This legislation is a responsible step forward in the absence of federal action," Deal said during a signing ceremony.
Critics have argued that the Georgia law could discourage tourism and overseas investment in the state and create a shortage of farm workers to pick crops.
Obama last month criticized the Georgia measure, saying, "It is a mistake for states to try to do this piecemeal. We can't have 50 different immigration laws around the country. Arizona tried this and a federal court already struck them down."
The Arizona law was blocked by the federal courts after the Obama administration challenged it, arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration matters.
Reaction from critics of the Georgia law was swift.
"Today is a dark day for Georgia," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
"Our concern stems from the very serious economic repercussions that will be felt against our state on numerous fronts and the very serious civil and human rights abuses that will also likely follow," he added.
Opponents predicted costly and drawn-out litigation similar to what has happened following Arizona and Utah laws.
On Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a state immigration law in Utah. The ruling by District Judge Clark Waddoups came on the same day the Utah law, passed earlier this year, went into effect.
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