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Sweeping state immigration law goes into effect on Sunday

    ATLANTA — Immigration reform might be dead in Washington, but it’s only beginning in Georgia.
    On Sunday, more than a year after the state legislature passed a sweeping law to keep illegal immigrants out of jobs, away from taxpayer-funded benefits and more easily within the reach of local police, most parts of the legislation will go into effect.
    Supporters say Senate Bill 529, as the law is known, only requires local governments to enforce federal immigration law — for example, verifying that adults applying for non-emergency public benefits are eligible under federal statutes.
    Opponents and immigrant rights advocates, however, say the new law will make immigrants — legal or not — more afraid of being scrutinized by government officials and law enforcement just because of the way they look or the language they speak.
    ‘‘Part of S.B. 529 is implementing federal law, but ultimately it has created a very hostile environment,’’ said Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. ‘‘It’s not just a matter of what’s written on paper.’’
    Gonzalez and other advocates across the state say that some immigrants are leaving Georgia, and others will be driven further underground by fear that even services like an emergency room visit or a 911 call could lead to harassment or deportation.
    But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, and other supporters have promoted it as a way to reduce Georgia’s appeal for illegal immigrants.
    ‘‘If S.B. 529 stops illegal activity, then that’s a success,’’ Rogers said.
    What happens in Georgia will be watched by national groups that are concerned the collapse of federal reform Thursday will spur more local governments to go forward with ordinances regulating immigration.
    Advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza point to the complexity of the federal immigration statutes and question the ability of local officials and police to enforce them without falling into racial profiling and discrimination, which will only drive immigrants further into shadows.
    ‘‘A city or county involved in immigration enforcement sends the message to immigrant communities that they cannot trust anyone around them,’’ said Flavia Jimenez, a policy analyst with La Raza.
    States and even cities across the country have been struggling to address aspects of immigration, often at cross purposes. For example, some seek to require police officers to routinely question legal status; others bar them from asking.
    The Georgia law includes at least eight proposals addressing different issues. The least controversial ones set mandatory punishment for trafficking a person for labor or sexual servitude and minimum requirements for non-attorneys who offer immigration legal assistance.
    One law enforcement measure asks jails to check the nationality of people booked on a felony or DUI charge. Another directs the Department of Public Safety to select and train officers to enforce immigration law while doing their routine duties, like traffic stops.
    The latter measure has been strongly opposed by immigrants and even police, who fear victims and witnesses to crimes will be too scared to come forward. For now, only 15 state troopers are scheduled to take the training course.
    Another section that has drawn criticism requires verification that all adults applying for state-administered benefits are eligible to receive them. Georgia residents will need to carry ID such as a passport, an original birth certificate or other papers proving their U.S. citizenship accompanied by a state photo ID to get most public benefits, like food stamps, Medicaid, assistance for paying heating or cooling costs.
    Critics say it will create a burden for state agencies and a barrier for citizens like the poor, homeless and mentally ill, who don’t commonly carry the proper identification. Supporters argue that the state doesn’t have enough money to waste on those who aren’t eligible.
    Finally, the law requires that all public employers and contractors with more than 500 employees ensure that all their new hires are eligible to work. That provision has been much praised by state officials, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
    ‘‘It is critical to our state that businesses are not participating in the hiring of illegal workers and this law sets out specific mandates for employers that are reasonable and fair,’’ Cagle said in a statement Friday.
    But opponents of the law say it will hurt Georgia’s economy by driving away immigrants, many of whom work in the poultry, carpet and farming industries.

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