ATLANTA - About 30 Middle Georgia Hispanics are among thousands from across the state attending a rally at the state Capitol Thursday to protest two immigration bills before the Legislature.
Thursday's rally drew 9,000 people, according to organizers.
Before the rally began at 11 a.m., hundreds of protestors lined up on Washington Street in Atlanta wearing white and chanting "Si se puede!", or "Yes we can!" in Spanish.
Many held colorful signs with messages such as "Georgia is not Arizona." Another had a picture of President Barack Obama and his family with the message: "We want family united like yours."
The event kicked off with religious leaders addressing the crowd in English and Spanish. A Buddhist monk spoke to the people in Burmese. Later, political leaders spoke to the crowd, including state House minority leader Rep. Stacey Adams, D-Atlanta, and Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP.
Two immigration-related bills in the Legislature, House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40, have gained approval in their individual chambers in recent weeks. Though HB 87 is longer and more comprehensive than SB 40, both would require most private businesses use E-Verify, a free electronic database used to check the employment eligibility of employees. State public employers and contractors already use the system.
Each would also authorize law enforcement to verify a person's legal status in cases when the officer suspects there is probable cause that he or she has committed a crime and cannot produce a Georgia driver's license, other Georgia identification card or some other proof of legal presence in the U.S.
Supporters say the bills aim to beef up enforcement against illegal immigration in Georgia, as the federal government has failed to address the issue. Those opposed say the legislation would encourage racial profiling and drive business away from the state.
Thursday afternoon, state representatives Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), author of HB 87, Allen Peake (R-Macon),Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), Alex Atwood (R-Brunswick), Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) released a joint statement in response to Thursday's immigration rally.
"Today several hundred supporters of illegal immigration descended on the Georgia State Capitol to rail against legislation aimed at enforcing the rule of law in Georgia. In contrast to these angry sign waving activists, there are millions of Georgia citizens working and raising their families, who no longer are willing to accept the loss of job opportunities to the nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state or to subsidize their presence with their hard earned tax dollars. We are the voice for these common sense Georgians and this kind of protest only bolsters our resolve to see House Bill 87 signed into law."
Thomaston resident Ana Regalado came to Atlanta in a bus with residents from Byron, Warner Robins, Perry and other parts of Middle Georgia to voice their opposition against the legislation.
"We're here to tell them we're not going to back down," Regalado said at the rally. "We're going to fight this, and may God help us." For more on this story, come back to Macon.com or read Friday's Telegraph.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.