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Senate committee cautioned against trying to solve immigration headaches

June 16, 2016

Attorneys and business leaders repeatedly told state officials Wednesday that the immigration system is broken but the federal government, not Indiana, should make the repairs.

The contingent testified during a nearly five-hour meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Immigration Issues at the Statehouse. Over and over the individuals and representatives of business associations said immigrants help the economy by buying goods and services and by providing labor for many industries that cannot find enough U.S.-born citizens to fill the job vacancies.

Currently, the immigrant system has caps on the number of visas available which, according to those giving testimony, hinders employers’ ability to find and keep skilled professionals as well as lower-skilled workers. In addition, visas are not provided for very low-skilled workers and undocumented residents already here have no path to gaining legal status.

Jon Baselice, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that mass deportation or self-deportation was not a practical solution since the undocumented immigrant population is roughly equivalent to the population of the state of Ohio.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, committee chair, questioned whether a grant of amnesty would be the answer. He recalled President Ronald Reagan providing amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 1986 and assuring citizens it would be the last time such a measure was taken. Yet, Delph said, the country is again dealing with the same issues and concerns caused by unauthorized status.

Baselice replied if Congress “does it right this time” there will be no need for similar actions in the future. He noted in 1986 the Congress did not accurately anticipate the substantial economic growth that would happen in the coming decades.  Also, the immigration system has not been altered to address the changing needs.

He pointed out that no one is driving the same car they drove in 1986 so the country should not be using the same immigration system.      

The attorneys and business representatives pushed back against suggestions that Indiana mandate employers use the federal Employment Eligibility Verification system, E-Verify, when hiring workers. They told the committee the system is inaccurate and cannot verify the authenticity of the papers like Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports, making it susceptible to identity theft and document forgery.

Also, they cautioned the committee against taking away the licenses of businesses found to have knowingly hired undocumented workers. Such a penalty would be disproportionate and could throw a company into bankruptcy.

The group reiterated to legislators several times that while the immigration system is outdated, inefficient and placing too many barriers on individuals who want to come to the U.S. work, Indiana should not imposed any of its own immigrant-related regulations on businesses. Doing so would place an additional burden on companies operating in Indiana and place them at a competitive disadvantage.

Leading off the testimony, Capt. David Allender of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s narcotic and gang investigations branch provided data and anecdotal information about the impact undocumented residents are having on crime.

He said the common belief is that unauthorized residents are supplying and dealing in drugs but that is not the reality. If the U.S. would remove all the undocumented, drugs would still be a problem.

Allender did highlight one action the Indiana General Assembly could take — allow undocumented residents to obtain state driver’s licenses. This, he said, would improve public safety by enabling law enforcement to access photos during a criminal investigation. Also, it would give unauthorized Hoosiers the ability to acquire car insurance.

Sen. Philip Boots, R-Crawfordsville, questioned how much a driver’s license would help since the document would not confirm the holder’s identity. Allender agreed the license will not ensure an accurate identification of the driver but, he said, for law enforcement it is a place to start when looking for someone.

The Senate Select Committee is scheduled to meet again at 1 p.m. Aug. 17 in Room 431 of the Statehouse.

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