House finalizes omnibus immigration bill

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | 9:19 p.m. CDT; updated 1:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The state House finalized the content of its omnibus immigration bill Wednesday, a bill that includes stripping state grants from cities with sanctuary policies.

It will undergo a final vote before being passed to the Senate.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Robert Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said this is to keep Missouri in line with national policy regarding sanctuary policies, which generally allow city employees to refrain from informing the federal government of any undocumented immigrants living in the community.

“I think sanctuary cities are a bad policy in open violation of at least two sections of federal law,” Onder said. “The only reason cities get away with it now is that there are no teeth in that federal law to enforce that policy.”

He also said the bill would have a preventive effect on criminal behavior.

“In many cities where sanctuary policies have been adopted, (criminal activity) has been a big problem and a big public safety issue, and we’re trying to prevent that,” Onder said.

But House Democrats, many from Kansas City, voiced concern over the vague language of the bill.

Rep. Michael Brown, D-Jackson County, said the 125-year history of migration through his Kansas City district might put the city in trouble even though no official sanctuary policy exists there.

“Because of our history and our legacy, we’d probably be in violation,” he said.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said he feared what would happen to a city should it be investigated for having an unwritten sanctuary policy.

“The idea of unwritten policy, which under the language that’s drafted here, is extremely difficult to tell what that criteria would be,” he said. “What does this do as a political tool to what these municipalities will have to go through in the process of trying to prove that they don’t have an unwritten policy?”

Rep. Jenee Lowe, D-Jackson County, said she, too, feared the bill’s interpretation of sanctuary policy.

“Unwritten policy is very hard to prove and very hard to defend,” she said.

Lowe also said it might be construed that her city is a sanctuary city under its current crime policy, which requires that police focus on solving crimes rather than checking the citizenship status of those reporting crime.

“If you’re afraid of being questioned, detained or deported, you’re not going to report crimes against the law,” she said. “Think about what you’re doing to the safety and peace of Missouri.”

Rep. Mike Daus, D-St. Louis, said Onder, who is from suburban St. Charles, does not understand how immigration affects Missouri’s cities.

“The big picture is if you want to put some real teeth into this, and the federal government will come down on this, there will be a lot of areas in our urban corners that will be devastated by this,” Daus said.

The bill would also require that tests for commercial driver’s licenses be in English and that police check the immigration status of people they arrest. Additionally, Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers would be trained to enforce federal immigration law.

This is not the first immigration legislation to hit the House, which recently passed a bill banning undocumented immigrants from attending state colleges and universities.

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