Monday, July 17, 2006

State lawmakers are offering more than 500 bills this year targeting state-mandated services, illegal aliens and the employers who hire them, responding to a growing chorus of public opinion nationwide calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Led by Georgia, where benefits for illegal aliens were cut and stiff sanctions placed on employers who hire illegals, and by Colorado, which banned nonemergency services to those in the country illegally, at least 39 states have either proposed or passed similar legislation.

Lawmakers have focused on constituency concerns regarding an estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the country, resulting in rising costs for education and medical care, higher crime rates and exploitation by employers.

Georgia lawmakers passed and Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, signed legislation this year requiring adults seeking benefits to prove their U.S. citizenship, sanctioning employers who hire illegals and requiring companies with state contracts to check employees’ legal status. The Georgia laws also require police to check the legal status of people they arrest.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Chip Rogers, called it “the strongest single bill in America dealing with illegal immigration — bar none.” He told The Washington Times that it was intended to send a message that “while the federal government is not enforcing its immigration laws, the state of Georgia takes those laws seriously.”

In Colorado, new legislation requires employers to show that new hires are in the country legally and makes it a felony for an illegal to vote. It also put two measures on the November ballot: one barring employers from receiving state tax assistance if they hire illegals and another allowing the state attorney general to sue the U.S. government to force compliance with immigration laws.

“If they’ve been taking benefits illegally, that’s wrong,” said Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican who worked with House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, both Democrats, to pass the legislation.

With federal immigration reform stalled on Capitol Hill, several states are proposing their own laws. More than 500 bills have been introduced this year covering a variety of topics, including employment, access to public benefits and voting rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The conference said 57 bills were passed this year, while others were vetoed and several more are awaiting gubernatorial action.

Other bills were passed in Arizona and Illinois, where U.S. citizenship or legal immigrant status is required to receive health benefits. Kansas will only provide unemployment benefits to citizens and those with legal immigration status, Wyoming bars noncitizens and nonlegal permanent residents from state scholarships, and New Hampshire requires proof of citizenship to register to vote.

In Louisiana, a new law allows any state agency to investigate a contractor’s hiring policies if the employment of illegal aliens is suspected and says prosecutors can issue an order to fire the illegals and fine those employers who do not comply.

Other bills were passed in Pennsylvania, which prohibits illegal aliens on projects financed by grants or loans from the state; Tennessee, which bars companies from state contracts for a year after they hired illegal aliens; Missouri, which prohibits learner’s permits, driver’s licenses or renewal licenses to people illegally in the country; and Virginia, where students with temporary or student visa status are ineligible for in-state tuition.

Several bills also were vetoed, including in Arizona, where lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature sought to criminalize illegal entry and allow trespassers to be prosecuted. They were vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.

Federal law requires states to provide some services to illegal aliens, including education and emergency medical care, but not other services, including continued health care and unemployment benefits.

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