Senate advances illegal immigration bill

? In a divisive debate, the Kansas Senate today advanced a business-backed bill on illegal immigration that opponents said wasn’t strong enough.

“They take our jobs and use our welfare dollars, and it is costing a fortune,” said state Sen. Peggy Palmer, R-Augusta.

Palmer pushed for an amendment that she said was tougher. It could have shut down businesses that were found to have hired illegal immigrants, repealed the state law that allows some illegal immigrants to pay the lower in-state tuition and required businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to check on employees’ citizenship status.

“It takes the rewards and incentives away,” Palmer said of her proposal. But the measure failed 12-27. Both of Lawrence’s state senators, Marci Francisco, a Democrat, and Roger Pine, a Republican, voted against Palmer’s effort.

Business interests lobbied hard against the Palmer bill, saying it could result in shutting businesses that unknowingly hired illegal immigrants.

“This amendment turns businesses in Kansas into the immigration police,” said sate Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

And others argued the Palmer bill removed significant anti-illegal immigration provisions that were put together by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Substitute for Senate Bill 458, which won first-round approval in the Senate, would prohibit businesses from knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant and would allow prosecutors to bring a civil suit for a violation. Courts could order employers to stop hiring illegal workers and eventually fine or jail them for contempt of court, supporters said.

The measure also creates new offenses for knowingly using false identification to get a job, human trafficking and taking advantage of people based on their status as an illegal immigrant.

It would keep intact the 2004 law that allows the children of some illegal immigrants to pay the same lower tuition rates as legal Kansans at state universities, community colleges and vocational schools. Under the law, the student must have lived in Kansas at least three years, graduated from a Kansas high school, and seek or promise to seek legal status.

Numerous attempts have been made to undo that law since its enactment, but they have all failed. Those opposed to the law say it is giving illegal immigrants an improper benefit. An attempt to repeal the law during debate failed 14-25.

In Kansas, 243 students are receiving the in-state tuition under the law, according to the Kansas Board of Regents. Most of those – 193 – are attending community colleges; 46 are at state universities, including 11 at Kansas University; three are at technical schools; and one is at a technical college.

The debate started at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and ended at 12:40 a.m today, and showed the emotions and complexity of the issue.

Several lawmakers remarked about nasty e-mails they received from people wanting to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Some legislators said states have been forced to try to control immigration because the federal government has failed.

“Saying it’s a federal government problem just isn’t cutting it,” said state Sen. Ralph Ostemeyer, R-Grinnell.

But state Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, Kan., said immigration was a phony issue drummed up by politicians trying to divert the public’s attention from real problems.

“It’s an issue that is designed to appeal to people’s worst instincts,” Steineger said.