Thursday, April 03, 2008

Steve Wiegand: Legislature's Republicans play blame-the-illegal-immigrant

By Steve Wiegand - Sacramento Bee
April 3, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A3

Republican legislators trotted out the first parts of their anti-illegal immigration package of bills Tuesday, and things went about as well as could be expected.

Which is to say, not well at all.

In case you missed it, the Reeps have determined that illegal immigrants are to blame for most of the state's gaping budget deficit. (Democrats are to blame for the rest of it.)

To remedy this problem (the illegal problem, not the Democrat problem), GOP lawmakers put together what they call a "border security" package of "20 common-sense measures" they said "would help the state secure the border and better protect Californians."

Two of the "common-sense" measures went toe to toe with reality, in the form of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

One of the bills was AB 1882, by Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach.

What the bill would do is require cops who arrest a drunken driver, after an accident that involves an injury or does more than $600 worth of property damage, to determine whether the drunk is legally in the United States.

If the drunk couldn't prove to the cop's satisfaction his legal right to be on U.S. soil, the cop would be obligated to contact federal immigration officials about it.

Garrick asserted that his bill would "dramatically reduce the number of unnecessary DUI deaths and injuries in California." (I don't think he meant to imply that there are necessary DUI deaths and injuries.)

But he didn't produce any statistical data that show illegal-immigrant drunken drivers are any more of a problem than legal resident drunken drivers. And the idea of asking cops to determine citizenship status without resorting to racial profiling is a pretty tall order.

Plus, a committee analysis raised a host of constitutional questions about the state's limited role in enforcing federal immigration laws.

So Democrats on the committee killed the bill on a party-line vote, although they did extend Garrick the courtesy of having his bill reconsidered, which means he will have the opportunity to have it killed again at a later date.

They also killed, and granted reconsideration to, a bill by Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Garden Grove, that would require state prison officials to determine the immigration status of any new prisoner.

The apparent purpose of AB 2141 is to give the state a firm illegal immigrant inmate count so it can seek reimbursement from the feds for housing illegals.

But prison officials already count illegals, and the state already demands the feds pay up, and the feds already ignore the demands.

These two bills not only exemplify the likely fate of the rest of the GOP package, but what's wrong with it.

There are some questions related to illegal immigration and California on which legislators could and should spend some time and energy.

Should, for example, a person who comes to California illegally at the age of 2 or 3 be allowed to pay the same tuition rates at state colleges as the person who comes here legally at the age of, say, 16?

Are we better off giving illegals driver's licenses if they learn the driving laws, pass the tests and get insurance, or refusing to grant them licenses until they obtain legal residency?

Those kinds of issues strike me as legitimate areas for debate.

It seems like Reeps could accomplish more in this area if they focused more on real problems and less on trying to score political points with the faithful by demonizing illegal immigrants.

Of course, accentuating the negative is what GOP legislators are pretty much relegated to these days.

Maybe they're just sticking with what they're good at.

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