Issue of illegal immigration dominates conversation at Lexington mayoral forum

It was illegal immigration night at the Lexington mayoral forum.

The issue dominated discussion at the Wednesday event sponsored by WVLK radio, where it's a staple of the talk programs. Wednesday also was, coincidentally, Cinco de Mayo, the holiday that commemorates the Mexican army's victory over French forces in a 1862 battle.

Talk show host Dave "Kruser" Krusenklaus, who asked most of the questions, got the ball rolling by saying there was a growing feeling that Lexington is a "sanctuary" city for illegal immigrants, and asking the candidates if that would change that if elected.

Businessman Skip Horine answered first and drew the first applause of the night. Horine said he didn't want police to profile people, but added that "what happens now is people commit a crime who don't speak our language ... police officers don't understand them, and they just let them go."

Both Mayor Jim Newberry and Vice Mayor Jim Gray said they thought that a new state law in Arizona that allows police to demand that people prove their citizenship will spur the federal government to reform immigration policies.

Former Mayor Teresa Isaac took issue with the notion that the city is a haven for illegal immigrants.

"Lexington is not a sanctuary city and has not been a sanctuary city," she said. "That is information that has been spread that is incorrect."

The immigration questions kept coming, both from Krusenklaus and from members of the audience.

Doug Roy, a construction contractor who is president of the Kentuckians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, wanted to know whether the candidates would require local business owners seeking a license from the city to swear that they would not hire illegal workers.

Newberry said he had no objection to that "and that's already the rule they're supposed to follow under federal law."

Isaac also said that employers are required by law not to hire anyone in the country illegally.

Gray, who runs his family's construction company, said that "the best predictor of future performance is past performance, and in our company we have a zero tolerance policy" about hiring illegal aliens.

Only Horine said he would object to making local businesses sign a promise, calling that "a violation of a business's right to privacy."

Roy later said he asked the question because he believes requiring a business owner to sign something would discourage them from hiring illegal workers because they could face perjury charges.

Anita Gallivan, another vocal opponent of illegal immigration, asked whether the candidates would stop the practice of allowing people to take tests for a driver's license in one of 29 languages. She suggested that the multiple languages made highways less safe.

Horine said he would prefer that the tests be in English, but he added that "we don't have a national language."

Newberry said the license tests were administered by the state, and he thought the language requirement came from the federal government. He suggested that a fix could be part of federal immigration reform.

Isaac said she would prefer the tests be in English only, but he disputed that there were any studies that showed that tests in multiple languages created unsafe roads.

Gray said that English is the "business language" in foreign countries where his company operates. But he also said that "an acceptance and embracing of different languages is a big part of America, and we need to remember that as we do deal with these very tough questions."

Lexington's mayoral primary will be May 18. It will narrow the field to two candidates, who will face each other in November.