Blunt seeks prosecutors' help on illegal immigration

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gov. Matt Blunt appealed to Missouri prosecutors this week for help in enforcing a state law regarding illegal immigration, though the local prosecutor says no such cases have been referred to his office during his term.

The law Blunt would like to see enforced more rigorously, enacted in 1999, exempts any employer found to hire illegal aliens from state economic incentives, tax abatements and loans.

In a letter to Missouri prosecutors Blunt said his administration was prepared to "assist to the greatest extent allowed by law in bringing criminal charges against corporations or individuals who flout our federal and state laws by hiring illegal immigrants," according to a news release.

But prosecutors generally don't investigate where defendants in criminal cases were employed because it's not a relevant element of the crime, said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle.

He said his office has not had any cases under the immigration law referred to it for prosecution.

"I'll prosecute 100 percent of the cases referred to me, but in over 20 years as a prosecutor, the number referred to my office has been zero," Swingle said.

Blunt has told local law enforcement agencies he would support any agency willing to send officers for training that would allow them work with federal agents in enforcing immigration laws, said Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson.

"The governor would like to engage several different types of law enforcement in going after businesses trying to work outside of existing laws," Robinson said.

Currently, local law enforcement agencies do not have the training or status to investigate those cases.

The highway patrol has received a handful of inquiries from sheriff's and police departments across the state about obtaining status under a section the Immigration and Nationality Act giving them authority to assist in such investigations, but so far, none has begun the process, said Maj. Bret Johnson of the highway patrol.

"It would be more difficult for small departments. The training is five weeks long," Johnson said.

The entire application, training and accreditation process can often take at least a year for an agency to complete, Johnson said.

The letters make up one of several steps the governor has taken toward combating illegal immigration in Missouri.

Under Blunt's administration during the last year, a new Internet database called the Missouri Accountability Portal allows Missourians to track who receives tax credits from the state, making it easier for investigators to catch violators of the employment law.

In March, Blunt fired a state janitorial contractor that employed illegal immigrants, an action which resulted in a lawsuit filed against his office Thursday, claiming Blunt exceeded his gubernatorial powers and showed discrimination when he terminated the contract, according to an Associated Press report.

On Aug. 27, Blunt issued a directive to state law enforcement agencies to begin working with federal immigration agents in the crackdown on illegal immigration.

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