A traffic stop of an employee of a real estate developer has led to questions about the legality of some of the workers on one of his projects. State, O’Fallon, and St. Charles County officials have told Hennessey Development they want to see company payroll records. Hennessey is building a $20 million publicly-financed housing project in St. Charles County. Hennessey says all its workerrs are legal. The employee stopped by an O’Fallon police officer earlier this week did not have a driver’s license and told the officer he was in the country illegally.
An overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws has been defeated in the Senate. Opponents blocked a move by supporters to cut off debate and force the bill to a vote. That failure dooms the bill, at least for now. Neither of Missouri’s US Senators favored the bill.
The 46-53 vote fell far short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in Washington and force a vote on the bill, backed by both Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Bush. Bush lobbied hard for his immigration package, but couldn’t sway leaders of his own party, including Senator Bond, a staunch ally of the president’s.
Bond objected to several provisions, but especially opposed provisions that would smooth the path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal aliens, mostly Mexicans, now in the country. Bond says the path to citizenship provisions would have had to been taken out and illegal aliens would have had to be barred from social service benefits for him to support the bill. Bond also favors having illegal immigrants now in the country register as temporary workers.
Both Bond and Senator McCaskill voted against cutting off debate. McCaskill objected that the bill wasn’t harsher on businesses that hire illegal aliens. She says it would have given a free pass to businesses that use undocumented workers aliens as cheap labor.
McCaskill also said the Senate had the debate backwards. She says the debate shouldn’t have focused on illegal immigrants, but should have focused on making the process to become a legal immigrant more orderly and fair.
Missouri’s two United States senators say they oppose the immigration bill being debated in Washington, though one voted to bring the bill back for debate
Senator Bond was one of 64 senators who voted to bring the immigration bill back to the Senate floor for debate, but he insists that doesn’t mean he supports it. Bond says the more exposure the bill gets the less support it will attract.
The 64 to 35 vote on Tuesday allowed the legislation to return to the Senate floor after a three-week break. The procedural vote barely cleared the 60-vote minimum required. It is unclear whether all 64 senators who voted to debate the bill support it. The immigration bill is subject to at least 26 amendments. Even after those amendments are debate, opponents have threatened a filibuster. Sixty votes would be needed to end any filibuster so a final vote could be taken on the bill Friday.
Bond says he understands that the tactic to bring the bill back for debate has risks. He says he doesn’t know whether the votes are there to kill the bill or not. Bond says he opposes the provision that would allow illegal aliens to become American citizens. He says that undermines the legal process of becoming a citizen. Bond says the path to citizenship provisions would have to be taken out and illegal aliens would have to be barred from social service benefits for him to support the bill. Bond also favors having illegal immigrants now in the country register as temporary workers.
Bond’s vote to bring the bill back for debate "mildly surprised" Senator McCaskill, who believes Bond and other Republican senators are under pressure to reconsider their vote. She says the Bush Administration and the Chamber of Commerce as well as others are putting tremendous pressure on senators to support the measure.
McCaskill says she has been against the immigration bill from Day One and isn’t about to change her stance. McCaskill says the bill gives a free pass to businesses that employ illegal aliens. McCaskill says it is very difficult to deter illegal immigrants, but it is easier to deter American companies from hiring them.
Four Kansas City roofing companies and nine men are charged with using illegal immigrants. The indictment says they gained an improper financial advantage over companies using legal workers.
They’re charged with smuggling more than a dozen workers from Mexico into the Kansas City area. The federal prosecutor says the companies and individuals also are charged with conspiracy and with money laundering.
Opponents of the immigration reform bill that is in big trouble in Washington are digging in their heels and remaining firm in their opposition despite a visit to Capitol Hill from President Bush.
UMKC Immigration Law Professor Kris Kobach, a former Counsel and Chief Advisor on Immigration Law to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, says the President and Congressional supporters have made several mistakes with this legislation – not the least of which was concocting it in secret and springing it upon the American public.
Kobach doubts President Bush’s pleas will have much impact on opponents. Kobach adds the best way to salvage immigration reform is to take out the amnesty provision and to allow lawmakers to vote on different components individually, so that no one would have to swallow poisoned pill.
Missouri’s two United States Senators don’t always see eye to eye on things, but they are headed in the same direction on the immigration bill that is before the U.S. Senate.
Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) is among the many Republicans who have expressed concerns over the amnesty and citizenship provisions in the current legislation. Bond points out Missourians and other Americans have been voicing their concerns about this bill, with many of the complaints dealing with the granting of what amounts to amnesty for those who broke this country’s laws.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has strong reservations, as well. She plans to vote against the current legislation for a number of reasons. Among her concerns: illegal immigrants would have better opportunities than would legal immigrants to bring their families into the country. She also is opposed to expanding the guest worker program – a program McCaskill says is being poorly run.
Unions have concerns about the temporary worker program, as well, fearing it would create an underclass of cheap laborers.
A business lobby group wraps up a series of seminars advising its members how to avoid running afoul of immigration laws through the hiring of illegal aliens. The last of four Associated Industries of Missouri gatherings was held in Jefferson City following earlier meetings in Clayton, Springfield, and Independence.
AIM President Gary Marble says the meetings were in response to members who have concerns the anti-illegal immigration backlash could end up hurting employers. Marble says employers are advised to comply with all laws regarding employment and immigration, but he concedes it is not easy to do that as the laws are complicated.
As for going after employers, Marble says it’s one thing to target an employer who knowingly breaks the law, but believes it’s quite another to target an employer who has been duped though a forged document or some similar deception. He says an employer should not be held responsible for something that was not known ahead of time.
Marble also expresses concerns with an immigration bill currently before the State Senate. SB 348 – the Missouri Omnibus Immigration Act – would require employers to verify the status of would-be employees by using the Department of Homeland Security ‘s Basic Employment Verification Program. Marble says the Pilot Program has flaws, adding employers should only be required to use a system works and works well.
Immigrant and refugee advocacy organizations want the state to keep its nose out of what it calls federal business. The Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, a group of about 30 organizations, says the STRIVE Act, or the Security Through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy, is a bill working its way through Congress that would replace the current immigration system - a system the group calls unregulated, chaotic, even abusive. But, the group says that means the state doesn’t need to meddle with immigration issues.
Senator Joan Bray of St. Louis says she agrees and is calling on leaders of the state house and the senate to quit its grandstanding with immigration issues, halt state immigration legislation and let Congress do its job.
"We do not need 50 states doing 50 immigration laws," Bray says. "The states are in no way in any position to regulate immigration as proposed by some [state] bills. There is no way the Secretary of State become an immigration office. There is no way that [state] law enforcement can become immigration officers." She says current state legislation only serves to divide communities, pitting person against person and turning neighbors into enemies who are suspcious of each other. Bray says such legislation is simply based on fear or misinformation and she says Missouri shouldn’t foster that kind of atmosphere.
The advocacy groups urge the state to tackle important state issues such as health care and education.
Spring break is over and the second half of the legislative session begins with the General Assembly racing to complete work on dozens of bills prior to the May 18th adjournment date.
Among the many bills awaiting action is SB 348 - the Missouri Omnibus Immigration Act – an immigration reform bill sponsored by Senator Chris Koster (R-Harrisonville) . Koster’s legislation aims to crack down on illegal aliens and businesses that hire the illegal workers.
Koster says cracking down on illegal workers is the will of the people, even though the business community is not sold on the idea. The business community has raised concerns that the onus of verifying who is legal and who is undocumented would fall unfairly on employers. Koster wants employers to use the federal Basic Pilot Program, which uses technology to allow businesses to conduct these checks very quickly.
Koster’s bill is a bipartisan effort, with pro-labor Democratic Senator Tim Green (D-St. Louis) on board. Koster expects to have this bill, as a stand alone piece of legislation or as an amendment to another bill, to get a vote in the Senate. That vote would put Senators on record as being for or against the idea.
The Mayor of Valley Park is thinking about vetoing a new ordinance that eliminates parts of the city housing code dealing with illegal aliens.
An ordinance passed last year fining businesses that hire illegal immigrants and fining landlords who give them a place to live has been thrown out by the courts. A revised housing ordinance was passed after the original law was challenged. It still stands but is now under court challenge.
City aldermen voted last Monday night to throw out the illegal alien sections of the new ordinance. Mayor Jeffery Whittaker still has a few days to decide what he wants to do.
Valley Park is a small community in St. Louis County. It already has spent $56,000 on lawyers to defend the original ordinance.