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Idaho committee kills immigration bill

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who drafted sweeping anti-immigration legislation proposed this year by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, testifies to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday morning. (Betsy Russell)
Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who drafted sweeping anti-immigration legislation proposed this year by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, testifies to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday morning. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Idaho lawmakers balked Monday at sweeping immigration legislation proposed by state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, that sought to penalize employers who hire illegal workers and enact an array of other provisions, from penalizing “sanctuary cities” to requiring driver’s license tests to be in English.

The bill, SB 1303, was killed in committee on a 7-2 vote, after a tense three-hour hearing that saw lots of testimony on both sides - but much more against the bill than for it.

“You can actually create a job immediately if a hiring decision that would have gone to an illegal alien goes to a U.S. citizen,” Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who drafted Jorgenson’s bill, told the committee. “So it’s a way to immediately address the jobs for U.S. citizens.”

But Ken McClure, attorney for the Milk Producers of Idaho, told the panel, “People do not flock and stand waiting on line for work as milkers in dairies.”

Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, an array of agriculture and business groups, testified against the bill. “The domestic workforce no longer wants to do a lot of these jobs, even with a 10 percent unemployment rate,” Olmstead told the committee. “It is our experience in Idaho that the domestic labor force in Idaho is not applying for manual labor positions.”

As a result, employers ranging from agriculture to rock quarries are relying primarily on a foreign-born workforce, Olmstead said, but he said there’s an inadequate federal system for bringing in such guest workers legally. “The federal system is broken,” Olmstead said.

Jorgenson’s bill would have required employers to use the federal “e-Verify” system to check on the immigration status of an employee, even if the employee is a relative.

Earlier, a House committee killed legislation from Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, also aimed at penalizing employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers. One remaining immigration bill, SB 1271, would make it a crime to use false documents for employment; it’s still awaiting a Senate committee hearing.



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