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Missouri lawmakers tackle immigration issues

By JASON NOBLE
The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri lawmakers are considering many bills addressing illegal immigration.

The bills tackle a range of topics, from restrictions on public benefits and college admission to penalties for businesses employing illegal immigrants.

Sen. Scott Rupp, a Wentzville Republican, introduced the most comprehensive bill, with sections restricting illegal immigrants from attending state colleges and universities; prohibiting cities from adopting “sanctuary” policies; criminalizing the transport or harboring of illegal immigrants; and stepping up laws related to employers.

“We’re here — in my opinion and in the opinion of many in my district — due to the failure of the federal government,” Rupp said Wednesday. Illegal immigration “is being brought to the state level, and several other states are starting to address this problem.”

Under Rupp’s bill, a business could lose its business licenses and permits if it is found to knowingly employ illegal immigrants. It would, however, exempt businesses from penalties if they used federal employment verification programs, which check employee records against Social Security and Department of Homeland Security records to verify legal status.

Earlier versions of Rupp’s bill, as well as others introduced this year, had levied fines and other penalties on businesses using illegal labor. Those bills conflict with federal law, Rupp said, meaning business-license revocation is the only legal penalty.

The bill also would require businesses awarded state contracts or grants to participate in federal employment verification programs.

Other Senate bills presented Wednesday would require people seeking public benefits such as welfare to prove their citizenship or legal residence and would deny issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

A bill by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, a Smithville Republican, would require illegal immigrants arrested and charged with a crime to remain in jail until the case is processed.

Unlike citizens, who can be identified by their Social Security number or driver’s license, illegal immigrants can more easily skirt prosecution by posting bond and assuming a false identity, Ridgeway said.

Several groups testified on the bills presented Wednesday, although most did so to point out technical concerns with the legislation.

Clark Brown, a lobbyist for the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, however, offered arguments against the substance of most of the bills. States are ill-equipped to deal with immigration issues, he said, and comprehensive reform at the federal level would be more effective and less likely to harm legal immigrants.

“The state piecemealing little parts of immigration here and there isn’t the real fix,” Brown said. “There are over 14 House bills and about eight Senate bills all to do with immigration, but most of those do nothing to fix the problem of immigration.”

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