Meeting at the state Capitol on Thursday, a special committee of Republican legislators began discussions on a comprehensive immigration bill for the next session of the General Assembly, in January. The panel talked about Arizona's laws, the nation's toughest, and received a report showing how Georgia statutes stack up against those in Arizona.
"I am not sure we will adopt Arizona's law, but we will come up with our own," said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, co-chairman of the Joint House and Senate Study Committee on Immigration Reform. "It would probably be something similar, but I am not exactly sure how it would mirror theirs exactly. But I'm sure that some of the same language would be in there."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in April signed the new package of immigration measures into law. After a challenge by the Obama administration, a federal judge blocked the part of that law that requires police to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. Georgia has no such laws on its books.
Critics say the Arizona statute is unconstitutional and can lead to racial profiling. Supporters say the measure is needed because the federal government is not adequately enforcing immigration laws.
Murphy and other members of his committee say they will weigh a number of other issues this year, including whether illegal immigrants should be banned from all of Georgia's colleges. They also intend to look at the effects of birthright citizenship in Georgia. Children born in this country are automatically given U.S. citizenship by the 14th Amendment, even if their parents are here illegally.
"Given everything that has gone on since we were last in session I suspect there will be a lot of different [immigration-related] bills that are put forth by a lot of different members," said Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, the other committee co-chairman.
The legislators began their deliberations amid a fierce gubernatorial race that has repeatedly touched on illegal immigration here. Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Nathan Deal have said they would support an Arizona-style law in Georgia.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, both Republicans, appointed the immigration committee in September, complaining that the federal government has failed to tackle illegal immigration.
Critics observed that all of the panel's members are Republican. And they said the timing of the committee's first meeting - less than a week before the gubernatorial election - is no coincidence.