Action on Immigration Unlikely

By: Paul Hammel, World-Herald Bureau LINCOLN — Illegal immigration, a hot-button issue in recent years, apparently will get the cold shoulder next year in the Nebraska Legislature.

A trio of key legislators on the issue predicted that the 2012 session of the Legislature, slated to start in a month, won't see a debate on the emotional issue.

"I think we've done just about all we can do to effectively address the problem on the state level," said State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, which deals with immigration policy.

Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, who has called for tougher state laws on illegal immigrants, said he sees a "zero to 1 percent chance" that the committee would advance a bill he introduced last year, patterned after Arizona's controversial immigration law.

The Judiciary Committee declined to advance the measure, Legislative Bill 48, last spring after an emotion-packed public hearing.

"You saw the (negative) tone of the committee. I don't see anything that comes out of this committee that is going to change that direction," Janssen said. "(The bill) might be on life-support, but that might be giving it too much credit."

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the immigration issue for 10 a.m. Monday at the State Capitol. But the hearing will focus on a more generic issue: how Nebraska law enforcement officials are dealing with illegal immigrants who are arrested for other crimes.

Nationally, and in Nebraska, immigration has been a huge issue.

More than 1,400 bills related to immigration were introduced in legislatures across the nation this year. All 50 states considered legislation, and more than 200 laws ultimately were enacted.

Three measures were introduced in Nebraska earlier this year.

Janssen's LB 48 would require local law enforcement officials who have reasonable suspicion to verify the immigration status of people they have detained for another reason.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash introduced LB 589, which would require all private employers to use the federal E-verify system to ensure that they didn't hire illegal immigrants. That would expand a law passed in 2009 that has required such checks for applicants for state jobs and jobs with companies that operate under state contracts.

Omaha Sen. Brenda Council offered a third proposal, a nonbinding resolution calling on Congress to adopt "common sense" reforms that recognize workforce realities and don't split up families.

The Judiciary Committee declined to advance any of the proposals, promising to look at the issue again this fall — thus the public hearing Monday.

A leading proponent of tougher immigration laws, Sharon Smith of Nebraskans Advisory Group, said the lack of action by the Judiciary Committee was the result of "socialists and ultra-liberals" on the committee blocking legislation because of the effect that tougher enforcement could have on businesses.

"The will of the people is there," Smith said. "I refer to the Judiciary Committee as the 'Judas Committee.' ... They continue to turn their back and ignore Nebraskans."

Ashford said his committee, along with the Legislature, has taken a "responsible, constitutional approach" to the issue by passing laws that block illegal immigrants from getting public benefits and obtaining jobs.

What is now needed, he said, is "a humane federal policy toward immigration that protects the borders and provides for some pathway for people who have been here for some period of time to be here."

Janssen said he would like to see LB 48 advanced by the committee but doesn't see the votes materializing for that in 2012.

"It's the will of the people of Nebraska to pass legislation like I've introduced. It just appears it's not the will of this particular committee," he said.

Coash said the fervor to pass tougher immigration laws has cooled in the face of more immediate problems, such as the state budget and the Keystone XL pipeline.

"I don't think (immigration) is at the top of anyone's list now," he said.

Coash said he still favors his approach to immigration policy but doesn't expect it to be debated in 2012. He said Smith's complaints were typical of groups that can't muster the support to advance legislation from any legislative committee.

Darcy Tromanhauser of the Lincoln-based Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, which has opposed Arizona-style legislation, said testimony last spring made it pretty clear that Nebraska risked expensive litigation and a destruction of trust in minority communities if it adopted such laws.

"I think what we saw last session is that the real solution to creating a workable and humane immigration system that works for all of us, and supports Nebraska families, communities and our economy, has to come from the federal level," she said.

Tromanhauser said a recent study by the University of California Berkeley School of Law indicated that the recent federal increase in deportations has ensnared many "longtime contributing community members with family members who are here and have no criminal records."

Annual deportations have increased 400 percent since 1996. The "Secure Communities" program screens fingerprints submitted by local law enforcement officials, and it includes 12 of Nebraska's largest counties.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

BlogHWC Staff