State legislators are battling over immigration from Arizona to South Carolina. In some cases, business leaders are opposing anti-immigration bills.
In Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) introduced three new immigration bills last week.
His bills seek to accomplish a variety of objectives, including a requirement for different types of birth certificates – one for American citizens and another for children born to undocumented immigrants.
A second objective would make schools collect data on students and report to law enforcement if their parents lack the necessary documents.
A third aim would require public housing agencies to evict undocumented immigrants.
A fourth goal would criminalize driving by undocumented immigrants.
“If you’re in the country illegally, you don’t have a right to public benefits, period,” said Pearce, who authored Arizona’s controversial 2010 anti-immigrant bill, Senate Bill 1070.
SB 1070 made it a crime for immigrants to fail to carry their documents and allowed law enforcement to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented. Opponents saw the law as racial profiling. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation.
SB 1070 has become a standard for other state legislatures.
“If you are ever going to stop this invasion, and it is an invasion, you have to quit rewarding people for breaking those laws,” said Pearce, president of the Arizona Senate.
Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, criticized such harsh legislation, saying Arizona would lose convention business.
“The concern is that this is going to put Arizona through another trial,” said Hamer, “and it’s going to hurt innocent business – people that are trying to get ahead.”
In Colorado, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs) withdrew his bill modeled after Arizona SB 1070, citing his concern for the cost of a likely legal challenge to his legislation.
In Arkansas, a state House bill that would deny benefits to undocumented immigrants was defeated last week.
State Rep. Jon Hubbard (R-Jonesboro) said his bill was needed because Arkansas had become a “sanctuary” for undocumented people.
An Oklahoma House committee passed a bill Feb. 28 that resembles Arizona’s anti-immigration bill.
The bill’s author, state Rep. George Faught (R-Muskogee), said his legislation would allow law enforcement to ask for legal documents at traffic stops and would deny state-funded scholarships to qualified but undocumented students.
“We want to make sure that those benefits given to our citizens are there for our citizens and not for those who are here illegally,” said Faught.
Georgia state Rep. Josh Clark (R-Buford) introduced a bill that would require schools, hospitals and nursing homes to report the number of undocumented immigrants served and their expenditures related to them.
“Currently, we as policymakers lack an accurate projection of what illegal immigration is costing our state,” said Clark. “With this information, we would have a legitimate argument to require the federal government to fulfill their duty to seal our borders or risk lawsuits from states over actual cost inflicted due to their negligence.”
State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) introduced a bill mandating that businesses use E-Verify, a free Internet-based federal program for verifying if someone is eligible for employment.
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Presenting fraudulent documents to employers would be a felony. Individuals with fake documents could be sentenced for up to 15 years in prison and pay up to a $250,000 fine.
Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal sponsored legislation as a U.S. congressman to remove birthright citizenship from the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, but he has cautioned Georgia legislators about a crackdown on immigration.
Such action concerns the powerful Georgia Farm Bureau.
“Our concern with Georgia immigration legislation stems from the fact that legal immigrants might be fearful to work in Georgia if the state seems to be anti-immigrant,” said Georgia Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall. “If immigrant labor were to avoid the state of Georgia, there would be major economic consequences within large sectors of agriculture.”
State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) introduced a bill in Tennessee mandating that all employers use E-Verify to determine the citizenship status of employees.
Carr said he was pushing his bill to help unemployed Tennesseans.
“With a 9.4 percent unemployment rate and an underemployment rate double that in Tennessee, the question is, why are we allowing an illegal immigration population employment opportunities that lawfully and rightfully belong to the citizens of Tennessee?” asked Carr.
Similar bills were introduced in the state Senate.
Debby Dale Mason, chief community action officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote that the chamber recognized “Tennessee’s immigrant population as a vital contributor to our economy, identity and global status.”
In Indiana, the state Senate passed last week a bill similar to Arizona’s 2010 bill that allows law enforcement to ask for residency documents during stops for traffic violations. The bill also requires English only at public meetings.
The Indiana bill would “send a clear message that Indiana will no longer be a sanctuary for people who are in our state and country illegally because of our federal government’s failure to act on illegal immigration,” said state Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel).
The Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce criticized the bill.
“It will have a negative economic impact on the state of Indiana,” said Angela Smith-Jones, the chamber’s public policy director.
In South Carolina, state Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County) introduced an Arizona-type bill.
The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position for or against a state Senate bill considered anti-immigration by the South Carolina Hispanic Council, but an official with the South Carolina Farm Bureau voiced concern.
“We’re competing with other states for labor, and passing (the bill) would put us at a disadvantage,” said Russell Ott. “We don’t need another immigration law; there are more important issues like unemployment and fixing the economy.”