Friday, February 11, 2011



Indiana lawmakers started a push Wednesday for a crackdown on illegal immigration modeled after a controversial Arizona law that is being challenged by the federal government.

A Senate panel heard more than four hours of testimony on a bill that Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, the bill's author, said would "put teeth into existing law — to say the citizens of Indiana welcome legal immigration but adamantly reject illegal immigration."

It would do so in part by having law enforcement officers ask for proof of citizenship or legal immigration status from anyone they stop for violating any law or ordinance, if those officers have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is not here legally.

"The inability to speak the English language, I believe, will be a key component or a key factor for law enforcement to establish reasonable suspicion," Delph told the committee.

The bill allows officers to arrest those they have probable cause to believe are illegal immigrants and requires prisons to check the legal status of inmates.

It also requires contractors who have deals with public agencies to check the immigration status of all their employees using the E-Verify system, and would allow prosecutors and courts to focus extra attention on businesses that are caught employing illegal immigrants.

"This is an economic issue. It's about right and wrong. It's about human exploitation and American greed," Delph said.

But Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, called some parts of the bill "way out there."

The Senate Pensions and Labor Committee approved the bill on an 8-1 vote, but instead of moving on to the full Senate, it must now also gain the approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The hearing on SB 590 was pre-empted earlier Wednesday by Indiana Attorney GeneralGreg Zoeller.

Zoeller a Republican, joined religious leaders, university presidents and business groups hours before the hearing to argue that the debate over illegal immigration is one that should take place in Congress, not in state legislatures.

Along with Catholic Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, Rabbi Dennis Sasso, Butler University President Bobby Fong and others, he signed the "Indiana Compact," a document that offered guiding principles for the immigration debate.

"While I understand the significant problems and deep frustration felt by our sister states," Zoeller said, "we must be realistic about the costs of the state superimposing itself onto a federal enforcement responsibility when the methods for doing so might be constitutionally suspect or fiscally impractical."

Delph, meanwhile, had lined up a series of speakers who said Indiana does have a role to play.

Former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, who once chaired a subcommittee on immigration, told the panel that since leaving Congress in 2007, he has realized that he had never asked himself: "Is immigration policy a federal issue?"

It is not, he argued. Hostettler said the federal government has the power to grant citizenship but not to regulate the pool of applicants for citizenship. He compared doing so to the National Football League attempting to govern high school varsity football.

"The impact of aliens on our society is clearly the province of the state government and not the federal government," he said.

He said an Arizona-style effort to enforce the law is appropriate because public safety officials are duty-bound to do so.

"It's not a question of whether they may or may not. Their oath requires them to do that," he said.

Steve Short, a government liaison for the American Legion, said the "chaotic situation in Mexico" gives Indiana lawmakers good reason to renew efforts to toughen up illegal immigration laws.

"We believe that lax enforcement of immigration laws has invited the criminal element into our society," he said.

A long line of opponents were there to testify against the bill, as well.

Jose D. Salinas, a Marion County Superior Court judge, said he is afraid the bill, if it becomes law, would unfairly burden Hispanics.

"If Gov. (Mitch) Daniels doesn't have to answer that question and Sen. Delph doesn't have to answer that question, then why should I? I was born in this country. I have worked my way up to where I am now," he said.

"You don't know what that feels like, and you don't know how that demeans a person."

Angela Adams, an immigration law attorney at Lewis and Kappes, P.C., in Indianapolis, said there should be more legal avenues to enter the United States, so that backlogs of five to 15 years do not exist.

"You can't stay; you can't go; and, on top of that, you can't get here to see a family member," she said.

"So, they resort to other measures, like crossing the border without inspection."

That, she said, is why the problem should be handled on a national level.

"Do we want to be the next Arizona?" she asked. "I don't think we do."

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