April 22, 2011

House significantly amends Senate immigration bill

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana House of Representatives addressed concerns of the Alliance for Immigration Reform of Indiana (AIRI), and significantly amended Senate Bill 590, which addresses immigration reform, on April 14.

The bill passed the House Public Policy Committee by a 6-5 vote on April 15.

“We are pleased that the House leadership addressed many of the concerns raised by faith communities, businesses, social service and agriculture groups,” said Glenn Tebbe, the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC). “The committee amended out many of the egregious provisions of the bill.

“The Church is still opposed to the bill primarily because the legislation does not address a solution to the broken federal immigration system,” Tebbe said. “Immigration reform must be comprehensive, and addressed at the federal level for it to be meaningful and effective.”

The amendments removed the “reasonable suspicion” language requiring local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws, Tebbe said. Many argued during previous testimony in the Senate that “reasonable suspicion” could only lead to racial profiling. The House also removed all the “English only” language from the bill. State entities will continue to offer services in both English and Spanish.

Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, said, “I was pleased with [the] amendments and the shift of the bill. It moves away from targeting the individual and more to penalizing the businesses. We need to be doing something at the federal level, but, for now, at least the fear factor is gone. There is a sense of relief in the Hispanic community.

“The sentiment of the House and most of my colleagues is that this is a federal issue,” she said. “Our hands are tied. These laws need to be changed, uniformly at the federal level.

“What we ought to be doing as [state] legislators is to get in touch with our Congressmen and tell them to do something about the immigration problem, to put more pressure on them to act and to quit punting.”

Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 590, said, “Illegal immigration is a problem in Indiana. We need to find a solution that’s right for Indiana. What might be right for another state, like Arizona, doesn’t mean it will be right for Indiana. We are not a border state. The general philosophy of amendments was to tailor a solution for Indiana considering our location, geography and economy.

“We worked very closely with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, the governor’s office, the author of the bill, Sen. Mike Delph, and Rep. [Bill] Davis, the chairman of the House Public Policy Committee on these amendments,” Koch said. “It was very much a collaborative effort.

“The general philosophy of the bill is to target intentional wrongdoing—either on the part of an individual who commits identity theft or the business who knowingly or intentionally hires an illegal alien.”

Koch said that Senate Bill 590 as amended would add penalties for companies.

“Businesses that knowingly or intentionally hire an illegal alien would have to repay employment benefits, lose tax credits and lose tax deductions for that illegal alien’s wages,” Koch said. “The bill also directs the Indiana Office of Management and Budget to calculate the cost of illegal immigrants to Indiana, and send the bill to the federal government.”

Sen. Mike Delph, the author of Senate Bill 590, said, “I’m going to let the House do their work on the bill. I do think there are many good things still in the bill, including the human trafficking provision, prohibition of sanctuary cities and E-Verify,” Delph said. “I think E-Verify is critically important.”

E-Verify is an Internet-based, free program offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which allows a business to determine if a potential employee is eligible to work in the United States.

Senate Bill 590 requires all businesses that are contracted with the state to provide services to use E-Verify.

Testimony before the House committee indicated that E-Verify works well for some businesses, but other business owners find it riddled with errors and said it is ineffective.

“E-Verify is based on the Social Security Administration’s data base. The Social Security Administration admits its data base has 17 million errors,” said Ed Roberts, a lobbyist for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, who testified in opposition to the bill. “That’s what we are relying on.”

Representatives from Eli Lilly and Company expressed concerns that the legislation, while improved, still conveys an unwelcoming perception to immigrants, and could significantly hurt their ability to recruit the best international talent and be competitive in the global economy.

Koch said that he expects Senate Bill 590 to pass the House by Easter weekend.

(Brigid Curtis Ayers is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information on the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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