Missouri Senate votes to step up enforcement of immigration laws

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri senators voted to step up state enforcement of federal immigration laws Monday, endorsing new powers for state troopers and new penalties for government contractors who hire undocumented workers.

The legislation, given initial approval by voice vote, represents Missouri's most serious foray into the national debate over the estimated 11 million foreigners illegally living in the country.

The bill's central provision would direct members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to be trained to enforce federal immigration laws under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"This would go a long way toward stemming the tide of illegal immigration to Missouri," said sponsoring Sen. Bill Alter, R-High Ridge.

Similar arrangements already exist with the lead law enforcement agencies in Alabama and Florida, the Arizona prison system, and sheriffs in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in California and Mecklenberg County in North Carolina.

Alter said the enhanced police powers could help fight the illegal drug trade along interstates 70, 44 and 55 -- the main arteries across Missouri. He also suggested it could help catch terrorists. And he said the arrangement could give Missouri troopers access to a federal database to verify whether people who came to the country legally have overstayed their visas.

Opponents argued the bill put Missouri on the harsh side of the debate over how to secure the nation's borders and treat people who came to or stayed in the country illegally.

"My sense of this bill is it comes down on the side of folks who want to do the massive deportation," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, who tried unsuccessfully to delete the patrol's proposed immigration enforcement powers.

Cris Medina, the executive director of Guadalupe Centers Inc. in Kansas City, decried the legislation as "political grandstanding" and denounced any implication that illegal immigrants are terrorists.

"It is certainly immigrant-bashing, and it gives an undue responsibility to local law enforcement," said Medina, whose nonprofit group provides social services to the Latino community.

Senators adopted an amendment by Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, that would bar contractors who employ undocumented workers from participating in public works projects. Contractors found to have "knowingly" employed an undocumented worker on a government job would be ineligible for other public works contracts for three years.

Green had proposed to also extend those provisions to contractors who "negligently" hired undocumented workers. But the Republican majority stripped that standard on a 22-9 vote.

Without the negligent language, employers easily could get around the law, Green asserted.

But Republicans countered that Green's provision would have turned employers into police and placed undue burdens on companies that employ hundreds of people.

"I don't want to see unauthorized or undocumented workers drawing down public money, but I also realize the demands of business and industry can sometimes be tough," said Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

Immigration bill is SB1250.

On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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