GOP senators leery of Indiana immigration crackdown

A bill aimed at having an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration in Indiana is on its way to the state Senate, but some Republican senators expressed concerns Thursday about the ramifications for law enforcement and taxpayers.

Republican Sen. Tom Wyss of Fort Wayne joined the Senate Appropriations Committee's four Democrats in voting against the bill, saying he believed the federal government should deal with immigration matters and that such a state law could lead to other problems.

"We're going to have some law officers overstep their authority," Wyss said. "We're going to have people doing things that are going to cause us trouble in a legal manner."

The proposal underwent some changes before the committee advanced it on an 8-5 vote.

Amendments included a change to require officers enforcing employment laws to have probable cause to ask for proof of a person's immigration status. Police officers stopping someone for other offenses can ask for such proof under the lower legal standard of reasonable suspicion.

The committee also deleted a provision calling for the Office of Management and Budget to calculate the costs of illegal immigration to the state and seek reimbursement from Congress.

Republican Sen. Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso called the changes "lipstick, rouge, eyeliner and fake eyelashes on an ugly bill" and said he only voted to pass it out of the committee because the issue was important enough to be debated by the full Senate.

"I'm concerned about the message that we're delivering that maybe Indiana isn't the welcoming, inviting, inclusive state that many people thought that we were," Charbonneau said. "I think ultimately something like this bill would have a major negative impact on our economic development as we continue to move Indiana toward being a global state."

Republicans hold a 37-13 majority in the Senate, so more than one-third of the Republicans would need to join all Democrats in order to defeat the bill. Gov. Mitch Daniels has declined to take a public stance on the proposal, which also calls for most government documents and hearings to be made available only in English and sets up tax penalties for businesses repeatedly caught hiring illegal immigrants.

Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, told the committee that hundreds of millions of dollars from Indiana taxpayers is spent a year dealing with illegal immigrants and that the bill would send the message "that we are state and nation of laws."

"Individuals or corporations that choose to break the law suffer consequences and are punished accordingly," Waltz said.

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, raised concerns that cash-strapped local police departments would bear the brunt of the costs for arresting and detaining possible illegal immigrants. Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said that as the only minority on the committee she was sensitive to racial profiling and that blacks are stopped more often than whites for traffic violations.

"Hopefully along the line more reasonable heads will prevail and we will realize this is something the state of Indiana does not need to have to do at this time," Rogers said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said he was confident it would win approval from the full Senate.

"We tried to put together a product that is tough but fair so I understand how senators can struggle with searching to find what is the right thing to do," Delph said.

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