Immigration and Legislature and State Government and Government & Economic Development and Government

Indiana House speaker questions immigration crackdown

April 7, 2011

Indiana's Republican House speaker said Thursday he had concerns about aspects of a proposal calling for an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration moving through the Legislature.

Speaker Brian Bosma said that House leaders were talking with business leaders and looking closely at the bill approved by the Senate and awaiting action by the House.

That bill contains tax penalties for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and allows police officers to seek proof of immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion a person is in the country illegally.

Bosma said he was uncomfortable with the prospect of foreign citizens in the state on work or education visas being frequently questioned.

"Putting these individuals in a position, having not committed any other crime, of having to prove their legal residency here has given many folks concern," Bosma told reporters. "We have to find a way to deal with the issue that does not give individuals who are here legally very strong third-class residency."

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has said it worries the bill would hurt the state's business climate, and Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. has raised concerns about possible damage to its ability to attract top workers.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said he's supporting changes to the proposal but that it would still be "tough but fair."

"This doesn't hurt law-abiding businesses or citizens in the least," Delph said. "People who support following the law shouldn't have any problem with what we're trying to do."

Delph said a proposed amendment to the bill would:

— remove the authority for police officers to verify the citizenship or immigration status of those stopped for other reasons.

— eliminate a requirement that the state police negotiate an agreement with federal authorities so that troopers could enforce immigration laws. Delph said that was being removed because of its possible $5 million cost.

— restore a requirement that the state calculate the costs of illegal immigration and seek reimbursement from Congress.

The bill, which the Senate approved in February by a 31-18 vote, requires most government documents and meetings to be only in English, but the amendment would specify that other languages could be used in public school classes if the student is enrolled in a class to learn English.

Delph said he wanted to have tougher penalties on businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, but that he was compromising to win passage of the law.

"People are going to support illegal immigration and they justify it or they support American sovereignty and they want to crack down on illegal immigration," he said. "There's no way really to hedge on that."

Bosma said he shared frustrations over the federal government not dealing effectively with illegal immigration and believed the crackdown bill would be considered by a House committee, which might take up the changes Delph has proposed.

"There's no deal on this," Bosma said. "People are looking at a lot of different solutions."

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