March 17, 2009 in Idaho

Illegal worker measure dies fast

Bill focused on reform, punishment for employers
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
Betsy Russell photo

Sen. Mike Jorgenson proposes a bill Monday to punish Idaho employers who hire illegal immigrants.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – North Idaho Sen. Mike Jorgenson proposed far-reaching legislation Monday to punish Idaho employers who hire illegal immigrants, but the bill soon died.

Jorgenson said Monday that the Senate State Affairs Committee chairman, state Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, told him the bill wouldn’t be scheduled for a hearing in the committee, which means it’s dead.

“I’m sorry that he’s caved in to Idaho dairymen and agricultural interests,” Jorgenson said. “They’re taking a pretty strong position that they need their illegal immigrants.”

Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Milk Producers of Idaho, said, “We do have a philosophical difference. He feels employers should be punished. We feel they shouldn’t.” Olmstead said his group will continue to push for “immigration reform that is realistic, substantial, and provides a system in which the supply of labor can be brought up to meet demand.”

He said dairymen don’t favor amnesty for illegal immigrants – or having them all “packed up and shipped away.” Said Olmstead, “One is unfair, and the other is unwieldy.”

Jorgenson’s bill would have penalized Idaho employers who hire people who aren’t legal U.S. residents by suspending or revoking their business licenses. It also proposed a series of steps to make life in Idaho more difficult for illegal aliens, including rejecting driver’s licenses for those who had them in other states but couldn’t prove citizenship, and cutting off state funding to any Idaho city that declared itself an immigration “sanctuary.”

“Folks, there’s a big reason why we need to do it,” Jorgenson told the State Affairs Committee on Monday morning. He said Idaho prisons now house 487 foreign nationals, and of those, “425 are from Mexico. That’s costing the state of Idaho in the neighborhood of $10 million a year,” he said, and “… as soon as they get out we send ’em back to Mexico.”

Committee members asked Jorgenson to address what his bill does, rather than issues regarding Idaho’s corrections system. They also raised technical and legal questions about his bill, and asked whether its provisions would violate employers’ due-process rights.

“What this bill is about is enforcing employers to hire legal citizens only,” Jorgenson told the panel, adding that he believed states have the right to enforce legal hiring through licensing.

He said he modeled his bill after legislation enacted in Arizona. That state has benefits including reduced rush-hour traffic to fewer limited-English students in school, he told the committee, as they dropped out after the bill passed.

Jorgenson proposed similar legislation last year, which also failed to get a hearing. He said he was advised to get together with the dairymen to look for common ground. He said he tried, but they didn’t want to compromise.

“This is, I think, one of Idaho’s biggest little dirty secrets,” the Hayden Lake Republican said.

McKenzie said, “The ones who were going to be regulated by this were pretty staunchly opposed to the bill as it’s drafted.”

Olmstead, the dairy lobbyist, said Jorgenson’s bill was “the wrong approach for the state of Idaho to take, to go for a punishment rather than a fix. The demand for the labor is there. You’re not going to get an unemployed high-tech worker from Boise to move to Shelley, Idaho, to sort potatoes in a warehouse.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or For more news from Boise go to

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