Columbia Daily Tribune
January 11, 2011
A state senator who wants Missouri’s anti-immigration laws to mirror measures passed in Alabama and Arizona is stirring up a fight with advocates for refugees and other foreigners.
The bill is designed to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Missouri and to gather information on the impact of their presence, said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit. He has a separate bill directing the attorney general to initiate a lawsuit against the federal government for the state’s costs of having illegal immigrants in the state.
“It gets down to safety and what is best for Missouri,” Kraus said. “The federal government is failing to do the job, and I want to pass that cost along to the federal government.”
No hearing has been scheduled for the bill, and immigrant advocates are gearing up to stop it before it can build momentum. They plan to have a news conference this week to highlight their opposition and are hoping problems with similar laws in Alabama and Arizona will help them fight Kraus’ bill.
“This bill is an attack on immigrant children and their families,” said Vanessa Crawford, executive director of Missouri Immigration and Refugee Advocates.
Kraus’ bill would require public schools to determine whether children enrolled in language classes for non-English speakers are here legally. Once the data are compiled, the bill would compel the state Board of Education to issue a report to “identify the effects upon the standard or quality of education provided” to students who are here legally of sharing their school with those who are not.
The bill also would require police to check the status of anyone encountered in “any lawful stop, detention or arrest” if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant.
Anyone stopped by police who is not in the U.S. legally would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol has told lawmakers that in 60 percent of cases where it calls federal immigration authorities to report an illegal immigrant, the agency is told to release the person.
“Does it take someone else being murdered by an illegal alien for us to take action?” Kraus asked. “Forty percent is not enough.”
Courts have blocked enforcement of Alabama and Arizona laws similar to Kraus’ proposal, Crawford said. “It is very irresponsible to introduce legislation that you know is going to be in court,” she said.
The Alabama law has affected schools and businesses there. Children of immigrants are staying away from classrooms because of the law, she said. And the state made news when executives of foreign car makers Honda and Mercedes had their immigration status questioned after traffic stops.
Farmers growing labor-intensive crops such as tomatoes are having difficulty finding workers for their fields. And Alabama’s Republican attorney general has asked for that state’s law to be repealed.
Crawford said she has not spoken to Kraus about his bill, which she said she views as intended to score points with voters rather than have a lasting impact on immigration issues. “People think it is a fun election-year thing to talk about.”
According to figures reported by McClatchy Newspapers, deportations in the past two years have been the highest in a decade. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has dropped to 11.2 million from 12 million in 2007, and the number of people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexican border illegally has dropped off dramatically, McClatchy reported.
Those figures aren’t good enough for Kraus. “If 100 percent of the people we called in, they came and got, I would say they are doing their job,” he said.
This page has been revised to reflect the following correction:
SECOND THOUGHTS: Tuesday, January 10, 2012
An article yesterday stated that a bill on immigration would require schools to determine whether non-English-speaking students were in the United States legally. The bill would require that schools make that determination for all students.
Reach Rudi Keller at 573-815-1709 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.