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Jorgenson unveils immigration bill

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, proposes sweeping legislation Friday targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants; cities that offer
Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, proposes sweeping legislation Friday targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants; cities that offer "sanctuary" to undocumented aliens; and more. The Senate State Affairs Committee agreed unanimously to introduce the bill. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, on Friday introduced sweeping anti-immigration legislation aimed at punishing Idaho employers who knowingly employ undocumented immigrants.

The bill also would declare issuing driver’s licenses to illegal residents “repugnant” and deny recognition of out-of-state driver’s licenses to those without legal immigration status; outlaw administering the written portion of the Idaho driver’s license test in any language other than English; ban anyone without proven legal status from receiving any state or local benefit; and cut off any state funding to cities that become “sanctuaries” for illegal aliens by failing to enforce sanctions.

Jorgenson said illegal immigrants cost Idaho millions of dollars, and with the state’s tight budget, cracking down is in order. “I believe we owe that to the taxpayers,” he said. “I think this is just about one of the best ways we can do that.”

Jorgenson, a third-term state senator, has proposed versions of such legislation repeatedly without success, but said this year he worked with University of Missori-Kansas City law professor Kris Kobach to draft Idaho-specific legislation. Jorgenson said when his bill gets a full hearing, Kobach will come to Idaho to testify at Jorgenson’s personal expense.

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, said his plan is to hold a hearing, likely in mid-February, on three immigration bills: Jorgenson’s; another already introduced by Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, to make it a misdemeanor for an employer to knowingly hire someone based on false immigration documents; and a third in the works from Reps. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and Phil Hart, R-Athol.

“What I was going to do is wait to see what, if anything, comes out of the House, and then have a day or two or however long a time when the committee looks at all three of them together,” McKenzie said.

Hart said his and Labrador’s bill has just been drafted; at about half the length of Jorgenson’s, it also seeks to penalize employers for hiring undocumented workers.

Under Jorgenson’s measure, employers who knowingly employ undocumented aliens could face fines, jail time, and license suspensions. “The key language is ‘knowingly hire,’” Jorgenson said.

The Senate State Affairs Committee agreed unanimously this morning to introduce Jorgenson’s bill, but only after panel members had lots of questions for Jorgenson.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, looking through the 16-page bill, asked Jorgenson, “If this type of conduct is already unlawful under (federal law) is it necessary for Idaho to even have this statute?”

Jorgenson responded that if the federal government isn’t adequately enforcing immigration laws, a state has “every right to use whatever means it has available to protect itself.”

McGee’s false-document bill, SB 1271, is co-sponsored by McKenzie; it was introduced in the same committee earlier this week.

Jorgenson, who had earlier characterized McGee’s bill as a “competing” bill backed by Idaho dairymen, whom he considers his main foes on the issue, said he now considers that measure a “companion bill” to his legislation. “That bill addresses none of the issues that I addressed. I certainly would support that bill as well,” he told The Spokesman-Review.