- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

DENVER — Illegal entry into the United States may be a federal issue, but try telling that to Dave Schultheis.

The state representative from Colorado Springs marked the start of the 2006 legislative session Wednesday by introducing three bills aimed at countering the wave of illegal aliens from Mexico.

Three other Republicans submitted bills as part of a package aimed at cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens. And Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff hinted that he might introduce legislation requiring high school students to show English proficiency before graduation.

Gone are the days when illegal-entry issues were the province of a few hard-liners from border states. This week, legislators from Arizona to Massachusetts marked the start of the 2006 session with bills on topics ranging from in-state tuition for illegal aliens to using radar to track border crossers.

The National Conference of State Legislatures ranked the immigration issue sixth in its forecast of the top 10 issues for 2006. Last year, legislators considered 300 bills on immigrants and refugees and approved 36, a figure expected to be surpassed this year.

“There clearly seems to be a higher profile for immigration this year nationwide,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter borders.

The issue has spread steadily across party lines and into states hundreds of miles from the Mexican border. Legislatures in Georgia, Virginia and New Hampshire are among those bracing for heated debates on strategies to control their growing illegal-alien populations.

In Massachusetts, the House defeated a bill to extend in-state tuition rates at state universities to illegal aliens after an emotional late-night debate Wednesday. Across the border in New Hampshire, a legislative committee spent hours considering a package of immigration bills aimed at stopping trafficking of aliens and penalizing companies that hire them.

Earlier this week in Arizona, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano called for $100 million to expand the Arizona National Guard along the border and crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens.

The $100 million figure matched the one proposed earlier this month by Republican legislators, who have introduced a package of measures such as using radar to track those who cross the border illegally, beefing up sanctions against employers, denying bail to illegal aliens who commit serious crimes and creating a state Border Security Council.

“We’re doing a lot,” said state Republican Rep. Russell Pearce. “We’re trying to stop illegal workers who are taking jobs away from Americans, and stop employers who compete illegally, immorally and unfairly by hiring illegals and paying them under the table.”

Not all the legislation is against immigration. The California Legislature is expected once again to weigh a bill allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, although Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed the proposal once.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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