Immigration Bill Halted In Committee

Immigration Bill Halted In Committee

This article was published on Monday, April 2, 2007 8:47 PM CDT in Topics

By Doug Thompson
The Morning News

LITTLE ROCK A bill that would have made it illegal for a person to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant was voted down 2-5 Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The session is expected to end today, meaning that the bill has little chance of becoming law.

House Bill 2779 sponsor Rep. Jon Woods, D-Springdale, thanked Judiciary Committee chairman Ed Wilkinson, D-Greenwood, for agreeing to hold the last-minute special meeting of the Judiciary Committee at the request of him and Senate sponsor Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins.

This bill would make it a crime to commit an overt act to shelter someone. Opening a door to let someone in who needs help is an overt act, said Sen. Jim Luker, D-Wynne, who voted against the bill.

House Bill 2779 is a short version of something that is already in federal law and which has exemptions for charities and charitable acts, Pritchard said. The bill would have made harboring an illegal immigrant a Class A misdemeanor, which would carry punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The bill would not apply to those who employ illegal immigrants.

The issue of illegal immigration has reached a fevered pitch in each of our districts, said Rep. Mark Martin, R-Prairie Grove, referring to four fellow Benton and Washington county lawmakers who came to support the bill.

If we dont do something incremental and take steps toward addressing voters concerns, the voters do have the power to move the issue for us, Martin said. They dont always consider the compassionate issues were talking about today.

Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale, also spoke for the bill. He said that illegal workers have become so open in Springdale, workers from the same car will apply at his dry cleaning business one at a time, using the same set of identifying documents. We have big front windows. You can watch this, he said.

Committee member Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, said that the federal government has made a mess of immigration policy and is not enforcing the law. However, what is this going to cost? My concern is about the financial impact. I was a prosecutor for five years. There is a cost to laws like this. The federal government cant do this with a budget of trillions of dollars.

Passing the bill would lead to racial profiling, said committee member Irma Hunter Brown, D-Little Rock. The only way youre going to find out whos harboring an illegal immigrant is to go on a witch hunt or start going after people who dont look like you, she said.

Woods said there are about 63,000 people that live in Springdale, and between 7,000 and 9,000 cant speak English.

Speaking a language other than English is not a crime and mentioning that as a reason for the bill raises the issue of whether supporters are trying to pick and choose who we let in, Brown said.

Woods replied that he just want to show were better than our Congress and our president.

Patricia S. Hoolihan, director of Catholic Immigration Services for the diocese of Little Rock, said the bill would have a chilling effect on, for instance, abused wives whose would have to reveal their illegal status to seek help.

Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Woods bill would likely be unconstitutional if it became law because immigration issues fall exclusively under federal jurisdiction.

It is one of the powers specifically reserved to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution, Dickson said. Immigration is the federal governments domain whether the national government is doing their job well or not, she told the committee.