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State immigration bills are tools of law, not bias

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Editorial: Feb. 25, 2011

The issue: Proposed immigration bills

Our view Neither closes door on lawful immigration

Two proposed pieces of state legislation before Kentucky lawmakers center on the politically charged national topic of illegal immigration. The bills – Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 485 – come at this ongoing problematic issue from different angles.
The more controversial of the two is Senate Bill 6, filed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. Schickel’s proposal, which passed the Senate by a 24-14 vote in early January, takes on the issue of illegal immigration from a head-on criminal approach.
If enacted, SB 6 would subject any undocumented immigrant found on state soil with criminal punishment under state law through a first offense misdemeanor charge. An undocumented immigrant arrested a second time could be charged with a felony and serve prison time. Adding even more teeth to the enforcement opportunity the bill presents, any third party found to have aided or harbored the illegal in the state also would be subject to criminal charges.
House Bill 485, proposed by Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, takes on the issue of illegal immigration from its cost impact. Moore’s bill would empower governmental bodies at the state, county and city levels to pursue reimbursement from the federal government, through the state’s attorney general, for the various costs incurred to incarcerate and care for an illegal immigrant. It would further empower the attorney general to pursue federal restitution for the same documented costs should the federal government fail to take custody of the illegals within seven days of notification of their arrest and detention.
So exactly how big is the problem of undocumented work in the commonwealth?
Estimates of illegal immigrant population range from 30,000 to 50,000. That’s about 1 percent of Kentucky’s roughly 4.3 million population according to the 2010 census estimates. That figure doesn’t paint a picture of waves of illegal’s pouring across state borders. At face value, nor does it appear to measure up against the far more critical issues lawmakers in Frankfort should be rolling their sleeves up to solve.
However, we don’t agree with the majority of the outcry that is occurring on the issue. Opponents of SB 6 specifically are positioning it to be everything from a racist, draconian attempt to close the doors to immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, to an outright attack on individual civil liberties, to an overreaching and unnecessary burden on local law enforcement who’d be undertrained and ill-equipped to do the job immigration officials are positioned to do.
In our view, nothing in either of these two bills presents an obstacle or hurdle to an individual from a foreign land seeking to legally immigrate to this country. While we understand that our nation’s courts have determined that undocumented individuals are entitled to certain civil liberties, remaining underneath the requirements and processes involved with becoming a legal citizen should not be one of them.
There should be no disagreement with the fact that our nation’s borders are porous. If national immigration officials and those who direct them turn a purposeful or unintended cheek to undocumented aliens and fail to enforce current immigration laws, then why is it absurd to expect local law enforcement to do so? And when states and counties suffer real, measured financial costs as a result of failed or purposely ignored legal means to enter the nation, why shouldn’t local and state governments seek restitution from the federal government?
We don’t anticipate that SB 6 will successfully make its way through the House and into state law. Although HB 485 has a better shot at being enacted because it is, as Moore describes, a more “middle of the road” bill, we chuckle at the thought of the federal government sending any additional money to Kentucky – restitution or otherwise – to offset expenses related to illegal immigrants. After all, the federal government’s bank balance is in as dismal a shape as is Kentucky’s.
One thing is certain. Until our nation’s borders are secure, its legal immigration requirements are followed or streamlined, and those who break these laws are held accountable at all levels, more such proposed legislation will continue to be crafted regardless of its potential for success.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.