Jun 3, 2011 10:06 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A sweeping immigration proposal, similar to an Arizona law being challenged in the courts, has received approval from a House committee.
Independent Rep. Ernest Wooton says his bill would help secure the borders. Citing a recent Supreme Court decision that declined to wholly reject the states' role in immigration policy, Wooton told the House labor committee that states must take on more responsibility in the absence of federal reform.
But critics say the bill poses a significant unfunded mandate on local governments and law enforcement agencies and would lead to racial profiling.
The bill, which heads next to the House floor, would create new requirements and crimes under state law.
The legislation would make it a crime to harbor, conceal, shelter, transport or hire immigrants. It also would establish crimes for illegal immigrants seeking work; for willfully failing to carry a registration document; and for failing to report fraud in obtaining public assistance.
The bill would also require certain employers contracting with parties that don't use the federal E-Verify system to verify the status of employees. It would require the Louisiana Workforce Commission to provide training in using the system and also to investigate complaints of violations.
Similar to a bill withdrawn by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, Wooton's bill would require law enforcement officers to jail someone they suspect of being in the country illegally until their citizenship status can be verified. But Wooton's bill goes beyond that, requiring officers to make a judgment call on whether "reasonable suspicion exists that the person stopped is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States."
The Legislative Fiscal Office said the bill would pose significant upfront costs due to the training of the E-Verify component, and that enforcing that system and requiring a sworn affidavit for all payments of public assistance would also be extremely costly. The state cannot force applicants to pay for the cost of an affidavit, and so it must incur the costs.
"Together, they are expected to cost the state upwards of $11 million and also cause some local entities to increase expenditures in order to comply," according to the bill's fiscal note.
Fees for violations under the bill would be deposited into a new trust fund. But the Legislative Fiscal Office says it is impossible to estimate the revenue, since some of the violations will be paid by state or local agencies themselves - representing zero net gain - and "the level of noncompliance cannot be anticipated with the confidence necessary to budget the funds."
In addition to the cost of implementation, immigration advocates say the bill would prompt an immediate lawsuit, leading to significant costs for defending it in court.
"Our national partners have been monitoring the situation very closely and are committed to bringing any types of lawsuits necessary to stop bills like this from passing," said Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer for the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
She said the main legal problem for Wooton's bill is that several of the provisions are preempted by federal law.
"There are some provisions that actually mirror provisions in Arizona's SB 70, the now-notorious anti-immigrant bill that was passed, that have been struck down by U.S. district courts," said Rob Tasman, associate director for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the bill includes several provisions that are also in the Arizona immigration law.
They include the requirement for law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person they stop based on reasonable suspicion, and the criminalization of a non-citizen's failure to apply for or carry registration papers.
"Do we want to inherit the cost associated with trying to uphold a bill that will probably be struck down at the federal level? Because, again, that is the proper forum to address this problem," Tasman said.
But Wooton defended his bill, reading from a May 26 Supreme Court ruling sustaining Arizona's state law requiring businesses to use E-Verify.
In addition to the legal complaints, law enforcement officers oppose the measure because of costs for incarceration and officer training. The Louisiana Workforce Commission, the main state agency targeted under the bill, also expressed concerns over the cost.
Curt Eysink, the executive director of the commission, said the costs could actually rise to $10 million in the first year alone for his agency, but other state offices would feel the effects.
"I think other agencies would be in a similar situation when it comes to awarding benefits by having to prove the legal status of the applicants," Eysink said.
Despite the concerns, the committee approved the bill by a 5-3 vote, after amending it to require mutual funds that comply with Sharia law to disclose that fact to investors.