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KY Legislature’s Efforts on Illegal Immigration Futile?

March 7, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - With time winding down in this year's 30-day session of the Kentucky General Assembly, efforts to address illegal immigration appear dead. That pleases those who feel the issue is best handled by the federal government.

A state Senate measure, SB 6, would make it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant or to harbor or help such immigrants move about the state undetected. Marilyn Daniel works with immigrant families as a volunteer attorney with the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic, Lexington. She says the proposal violates the Constitution's Bill of Rights in exacting warrantless arrests.

"It would place an unreasonable and unacceptable burden on the immigrant community as a whole, most of whom have legal authority to be here. We just should not be in the business of harassing people who have the same status we have."

The Senate measure would allow state and local police to enquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop in their normal course of law enforcement. A House measure, HB 3, would require contractors with the state government to use a federal government database called E-Verify to confirm whether prospective employees are in the country legally. Neither measure is likely to advance beyond its respective chamber.

Representatives of social service groups like La Casita Center, Louisville, say SB 6 would make criminals out of Good Samaritan organizations. Amy Shelton, the Center’s executive director, works with immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"SB 6 would criminalize the folks who are providing essential services – be they doctors, teachers, ambulance drivers or social workers. Anyone who aids or supports undocumented immigrants could be fined."

Shelton also discredits a state House measure requiring government contractors to check a potential employee's immigration status when hiring. That is another issue, she says, that is best handled by the federal government.

"We need comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We need immigration reform that recognizes there are reasons why folks are coming to this country - risking their lives to do so. They're coming because our economy demands that labor."

Last week's media poll by CN2 Politics showed that more than twice as many Kentuckians surveyed prefer the House plan aimed at curbing illegal immigration over the Senate proposal.

Proponents of anti-immigration measures argue that Kentuckians are losing work to undocumented immigrants, and those here illegally are burdening already cash-strapped state and local services.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY