Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to sign immigration bill

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

David Goldman/AP

Alexandra Leon (center), 6, was one of several people who attended a rally this week in Atlanta against an Arizona-style immigration bill passed by the state legislature. Gov. Nathan Deal said he plans to sign the bill into law.

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal said Friday that he will sign a tough immigration law passed by the Georgia legislature that includes elements similar to a contentious law enacted in Arizona last year.

The legislation "sends a signal that the citizens of our state believe the rule of law is important," Deal said, a day after the bill passed the legislature.

Lawmakers had debated the issue for weeks and several versions were considered before a bill passed in the final hours of the 2011 session.

Certain businesses will be required to check the immigration status of employees, and the bill authorizes law enforcement to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects.

When the governor signs the bill into law, it will be among the toughest in the nation to pass since Arizona's law was signed and subsequently challenged in court.

Various groups, including those that represent agricultural businesses, restaurant owners and other business interests in Georgia, had fought to weaken the bill, worried that they could be penalized for not screening new hires.

The final version will allow any company found to have committed a "good faith violation" to have 30 days to come into compliance.

During the debate, some lawmakers raised concern that a boycott similar to one that happened in Arizona after that state passed its law would hurt businesses in Georgia.

Deal, a Republican, said he did not think the Georgia law would lead to boycotts or harm businesses in the state, and he said the problem of illegal immigration must still be addressed at the federal level.

Deal said he hopes the state's adoption of such a tough measure will "send a message to members of Congress that it's time for them to get serious about the issue."

When Deal was in Congress, he backed tough measures aimed at illegal immigration, including ending birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to those in the country illegally.