Georgia’s House last week passed the first of an expected flurry of immigration bills, approving a proposal designed to tack a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants.

The “Illegal Immigrant Fee Act” requires customers to show a pay stub, driver’s license or other proof they are in the United States legally. Failure to do so would result in the surcharge.

It was the first of several attempts to toughen the state’s immigration standards to reach a vote this legislative session. Across the Capitol, state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, is drumming up support for a broader bill that would deny state-administered benefits to adults who cannot show they are legally in the United States.

House lawmakers approved the surcharge bill 106-60. It now moves to the Senate.

All of the members of the Whitfield and Murray County delegation to the General Assembly voted for that measure.

“This is a way to make sure they (illegals) are paying for the services they receive,” said Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold.

Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, says he voted for the bill with mixed emotions.

“We certainly want to try to make sure that illegals pay for the costs they impose upon society. This bill is well-intentioned, but I’m not sure how much of an impact it will really have,” Dickson said.

Dickson says he doesn’t believe the surcharge will actually collect much money for the state.

“If you are illegal, and you know this charge is in place, would you still make that transfer? Or would you find some other way of getting that money home?” he asked.

State Rep. Tom Rice, R-Peachtree Corners, said the bill seeks to offset the financial burden of the state’s estimated 225,000 illegal immigrants.

“It’s the idea of giving these folks, who are hard working, the opportunity to pay back the services they receive but don’t pay for right now,” Rice said.

Several Republicans warily questioned the intent and impact of the legislation.

State Rep. David Casas, a Lilburn Republican and one of three Hispanics in the Legislature, said the bill would be hard to enforce because few illegal immigrants would be willing to publicly identify themselves.

Democrats called for compassion for the migrant workers who help drive the state’s economy.

“I can’t go to bed at night saying, ’I will not do for the Hispanic community and the Mexicans what was done for the Italian community and the Irish and every other community looking for a better way of life,” said state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway. He added, “All I ask is that we live the code we tell people we live by.”

As for the Rogers bill barring illegals from receiving various services, some members of the Whitfield and Murray delegations said the General Assembly should move cautiously.

“We don’t want to pass something that will cost us more in the long run,” said Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton.

He and Dickson pointed to one possible result if illegals are barred from county health clinics. They might instead turn to local emergency rooms for treatment, and those emergency rooms are required by federal law to treat them.

“You’d just be trading one of the most cost-efficient forms of treatment for one of the most costly,” Thomas, a physician, said.

Dickson and Thomas said the General Assembly is limited in what it can do to address the problem of illegal immigration.

“This is really a federal matter, something the federal government will have to deal with,” Thomas said.

George Woodward, president of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber hasn’t taken a stand on any of the bills dealing with illegal immigration currently in the Legislature. And he says he hasn’t heard much comment — either pro or con — on the bills from local business leaders.

“They’ve been pretty quiet,” he said.

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