- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

Immigration reforms clog legislatures nationwide

ATLANTA — So many bills dealing with illegal immigration are being introduced in state legislatures this year that advocates on all sides of the issue report having a hard time keeping tabs.

It also can be hard to track who is on which side, as states far from the Mexican border, including Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, struggle to cope with the influx of illegal aliens. State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., a Republican whose district spans part of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, learned that lesson this week.

A critic of federal immigration policy, Mr. Hanger has worked with groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform on bills such as the one he introduced this year that would ban children of illegal aliens from qualifying for in-state tuition rates at Virginia’s colleges and universities.

But his allies quickly became critics, Mr. Hanger said, when he amended his bill to allow an exception for those who aren’t “the type of immigrant that I’m concerned with.” Under his amendment, their parents would have to have paid state taxes for at least three years and applied for U.S. citizenship before the students could qualify for cheaper tuition.

His corrective measure drew attacks from those who saw it as a reversal of course.

With immigration issues, legislators find themselves, quite literally, making up new laws as they go along. And it is difficult to read the issue politically: In some areas, it’s a white-hot subject; in others, it’s more a nagging concern.

At the center are Arizona and New Mexico, whose Democratic governors, Janet Napolitano and Bill Richardson, last year declared a state of emergency on their Mexican border areas. But the Southeast also has been fertile ground for new legislation.

About 40 bills have been dropped in the Virginia legislature since last month, and every Southern state has considered legislation during the past year, said Julia Kirchner, the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s deputy director for government relations.

Even places on the Canadian border are getting into the act.

Last month, for example, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, announced the creation of a state enforcement team to crack down on illegal aliens, and called for stiffer penalties for trafficking in false identity documents.

Other bills target employers, imposing fines or banning businesses that employ illegal aliens from state contracts. Some, like a high-profile measure in New Hampshire, direct state police to take a greater role in apprehending illegal aliens.

Among the newest innovations are bills that target illegal aliens’ paychecks. Several immigration specialists said this week that a bill authored by Georgia state Rep. Tom Rice, a Republican, is the first they’ve seen that would impose a surcharge on wire transfers of money by those without proof of legal status.

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