Politics & Government

Lawmaker questions practicality of Ky. immigration bill

FRANKFORT — A state lawmaker whose House committee this week will consider the Senate-passed bill designed to crack down on illegal immigrants said Sunday his panel will "give it a fair hearing, but we have a lot of questions about it."

House Local Governments Chairman Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said the Senate might have approved Senate Bill 6 earlier this month "as a symbolic vote to deal with illegal immigrants.

"What I wonder about is if they considered how practical it is to implement," he said.

The bill would allow police to ask about an immigrant's legal status during a "lawful contact" such as stopping a vehicle for having a taillight out. It also would create crimes for smuggling illegal immigrants for profit and "aiding and abetting" illegal immigrants to come to Kentucky.

Riggs said he wants to know where illegal immigrants would be jailed. He said about 98 percent of Kentucky's 17,700 jail beds are filled.

"That means we have about 250 beds open in our county jails," he said. "It's been estimated that we have 30,000 to 50,000 illegal immigrants — about 1 percent of the state's population.

"If we did round up all the illegals, where would we put them?"

Riggs also said he wants to know what effect the bill would have on business.

"It's been estimated that Arizona, with its strict immigration bill, is going to lose $120 million in revenue from businesses that are boycotting the state with their conventions," he said.

Riggs noted that the measure allows a police officer to approach anyone and ask his or her immigration status.

That means a group of Japanese businessmen could be eating at a McDonald's, and a constable could question them about their legality, he said.

"I understand there are about 80 different types of documents dealing with a person's immigration," Riggs said. "Would the level of police training to implement this legislation be on the same level as what federal immigration agents get?"

Riggs said his committee will hold at least two hearings on SB 6, which was approved 24-14 by the Senate. The first will be at noon Wednesday in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. The other will be Feb. 9.

Proponents of the bill have said Kentucky should approve it before neighboring states pass strict immigration laws and the Bluegrass State becomes a haven for illegal immigrants. Opponents have scheduled a rally at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Capitol in Frankfort.

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