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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Georgia to cut migrants' benefits
Rally against illegal immigration staged in Atlanta, Georgia
Supporters cheered when they heard the bill had been signed
The US state of Georgia has approved a controversial immigration bill which prevents illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits.

When the law takes effect next year, employers hiring illegal workers will face sanctions and police will have to check detainees' legal status.

Governor Sonny Perdue, who signed the bill, said it was intended to "ensure Georgia's hospitality was not abused".

Supporters and critics say it is the toughest immigration measure in the US.

"I want to make this clear: we are not, Georgia's government is not, and this bill is not anti-immigrant," Gov Perdue said.

"It is our responsibility to ensure that our famous Georgia hospitality is not abused, that our taxpayers are not taken advantage of and that our citizens are protected."

'Difficult time'

The law, which will take effect in July 2007, will also impose prison terms for human trafficking and limit the services commercial companies can provide to illegal immigrants.

BBC correspondents say the move has come at a difficult time in the US as there have been country-wide protests over a federal immigration law currently being debated in the Senate.

"It is a punitive bill," said the president of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Sara Gonzalez.

"This is a very complicated issue, and I don't see any good coming out of this."

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the US.

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