By Wally Kennedy
During a ceremonial signing of a new immigration bill on Monday in Joplin, Gov. Matt Blunt said the state of Missouri could not wait for the federal government to respond to what has become a serious national problem.
“This significant legislation will protect the safety of Missouri families and the security of our jobs from the threat of illegal immigration, and I am pleased that Missouri’s legislators responded to my call for action where Washington has failed to act,” Blunt said.
He said the United States is, for the most part, a nation of immigrants and that we “welcome legal immigrants to come here, learn our language and work here,” but that the rule of law with regard immigration must be enforced.
House Bill 1549 enacts into law policies Blunt proposed to crack down on illegal immigration, including prohibiting illegal immigrants from obtaining a license to drive. A press release issued by Blunt’s office characterized the bill’s provisions “as some of the strongest legislation in the country to fight illegal immigration.”
Flanked by state legislators from across Southwest Missouri, Blunt said the bill requires verification of lawful presence in this country for every individual arrested for incarceration.
It also prevents the creation of sanctuary cities in the state; requires verification of legal employment status of every public employee; allows for cancellation of state contracts for contractors if they hire illegal immigrants; requires public agencies to verify the legal status of applicants before providing welfare benefits; criminalizes the transportation of illegal immigrants for exploitative purposes; and enacts provisions to punish bad-acting employers who hire illegal immigrants.
But the fallout could have serious economic consequences for the state, according to Adolfo Castillo, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Castillo said he has not had an opportunity to read the bill, but understands that it mirrors similar legislation adopted last year in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma HB 1804 affected the Oklahoma economy. It caused a mass exodus of legal and illegal immigrants that left the state,” he said. “It left a lot of companies without workers and the state received less revenue from the Hispanic community. It cost the state revenue from local businesses.”
Whether the Missouri legislation causes the same thing to happen here, he said, remains to be seen.
“That’s an unknown. But we have a pretty basic idea of what happened in Oklahoma and the Missouri legislation is the same thing,” he said. “There is the potential for an economic impact in this area because of the poultry and pig productions. Those companies hire a lot of immigrants.”
Castillo, like Blunt, said the federal government had an opportunity to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“It offered a workable solution, but in the end it was defeated. The guest-worker program that would have been part of the solution is not a reality today,” he said. “People like to simplify this issue, but it is a very complex issue. There are workers willing to work and business people who need these people. Instead of finding a way to make this legal, they are punishing them both.”
But Castillo said the bill has been signed into law.
“It is the law. You have to respect the law whether it’s good or bad,” he said.
Blunt said the bill will not result in discrimination against Hispanics or contribute to the profiling of Hispanic individuals by law enforcement.
Last summer, the governor directed all state law-enforcement agencies to verify the immigration status of anyone presented for incarceration. As a result of that directive, Blunt said the state has identified 250 illegal aliens since then, including some European and Chinese immigrants who were in this country illegally.
By Wally Kennedy
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