Immigration bills stall

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March 10th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Nebraska lawmakers have decided to skip debate on immigration bills this year. The Judiciary Committee will instead recommend studying issues related to illegal immigration this summer.

It looks like the Legislature may be exploring a new and untested direction on immigration legislation, including a state guest worker program. Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee met and talked about not acting on any of the immigration bills before it this year. That includes a controversial Arizona-style proposal to require law enforcement officials check the immigration status of people they stop, if there’s reason to believe those people are in the country illegally. Instead, committee members are talking about doing a study this summer on adopting legislation similar to that just passed in Utah. That legislation sets up a state guest worker program to issue permits for undocumented workers in the state. It also fines employers who hire illegal immigrants who don’t have such a permit. And it requires police to check people’s immigration status, but only if they’ve been arrested for serious crimes, not if they’ve simply been stopped for a traffic violation.

Omaha Senator Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he envisions a series of hearings across the state to discuss such an approach.

Sen. Brad Ashford wants study a legislative proposal similar to immigration legislation in Utah. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“I think this is incredibly important for our state,” Ashford said. “We need to build a statewide consensus and we need to embrace the productivity of the immigrant population even if they’re undocumented.”

Senator Charlie Janssen of Fremont, who introduced the Arizona-style enforcement bill, said he’s not familiar with the details of the Utah legislation. He said he wants to make sure any legislation emphasizes enforcement, not amnesty. And he referred to critics of his bill who said immigration enforcement’s a federal matter.

“I was met with much resistance on doing it state by state. But now we’re on the flip side, we’re looking to do something state by state, on a different measure.”

The Utah legislation would not go into effect for two years. Meanwhile, the state would have to apply for a waiver from the federal government on the guest worker program. Ashford was asked if he thinks that’s constitutional.

“I don’t know about the work permit part,” he said. “But they are certainly going hell-bent for leather to get it done. And it’s a conservative Republican governor and one of the most conservative Republican legislatures in the states who are advocating for it.”

Since his bill has not been killed, Janssen could still try to pull it out of committee with 25 votes from the full Legislature. But that strategy has not been successful in recent years.

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