The Richmond Register

State News

February 10, 2011

Immigration bill delay may be about political leverage

FRANKFORT — The House Local Government Committee conducted a second day of hearings on a Senate immigration bill Wednesday without taking a vote, but the delay may be about political leverage as much as it is about philosophical objections.

The hearing also got testy, when the sponsor, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, objected to critics who have characterized the measure as racially motivated and after suggestions by one Democrat committee member that another supporter of the bill used “self-righteous and venomous” language in his testimony.

Senate Bill 6 creates a crime of trespass for illegal or unauthorized immigrants, allows Kentucky law officers to determine the immigration status of people they stop for “lawful reasons” and generally directs them to enforce federal immigration laws. Critics contend the bill will be impossible to enforce fairly, will crowd jails and tax their operating budgets, lead to racial profiling and place burdens and risks on innocent immigrants and church and welfare agencies which offer charitable aid.

Marilyn Daniel of the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic in Lexington said immigrants who legally migrated to the states and obtained citizenship don’t routinely carry documents with them – any more than naturally born citizens carry birth certificates. Daniel said Schickel’s bill contains provisions mirroring those in an Arizona statute struck down by a federal judge because they would lead to law officers approaching legal, lawful citizens with suspicion.

She said there are several other categories of “legal immigrants” in Kentucky who law officers might incorrectly determine are in the country illegally. The laws governing those various categories and the paperwork which documents them is complicated and different from category to category.

“For an officer on the street,” Daniel told the committee, “you’re going to have to have a lot of training.”

Then Rev. Marian Taylor of the Kentucky Council of Churches spoke of mixed families – those with legal immigrant members but with children or spouses who are in the country illegally. She also talked about the burden placed on church volunteers who see their religious duty requiring them to help those in need, and concluded by quoting Jesus.

That prompted Lexington construction contractor and lay minister Douglas Roy of Kentuckians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement to respond with his own biblical quotes. He said illegal immigrants take jobs from Kentucky residents; pose health risks; place financial strains on the education, health and justice systems; and burden the social welfare system by receiving such benefits as Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps. He also said the law would end “sanctuary policies of various counties and cities” but did not name them.

He said at one point illegal immigrants lie and steal and asked “are these good people?” He said offered his own biblical quotation: “Love works no ill to his neighbors,” and suggested illegal immigrants “do ill to their neighbors.”

Those types of comments prompted Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, to suggest the language was “venomous and self-righteous.” Schickel took offense. He said comments by some attending a rally to oppose the bill Tuesday that supporters of the bill are racist “are hurtful. For either side to bring up these types of things is not productive.”

Wayne explained his remarks were not directed at Schickel or supporters of the bill but rather toward language used by Roy. Daniel also took issue with Roy’s testimony, saying he’s incorrect about illegal immigrants’ abuse of social services because they are not eligible for Social Security, SSI, or food stamps.

The committee again took no vote. When Chairman Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, was asked why he said: “I told Sen. Schickel we will continue to discuss the bill until we see what the Senate does with House Bill 3.” That bill originated in the House but takes a different approach to immigration problems by requiring employers who do business with the state to verify the immigration status of new hires.

That might suggest the House committee has no intention of approving the Senate bill but is more interested in using it to leverage Senate action on the House bill.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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