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Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature will wait and see on immigration reform

January 20, 2011

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Story by Courtney Pitts

For a controversial Arizona-style law to get a key Nebraska senator’s vote, it must do three things: be constitutional, effectively deter illegal immigration and, most of all, not economically hamstring law enforcement.

“I’m interested in hearing from the law enforcement. I want to hear from sheriffs and jailers. I want to hear from citizens. I want to hear from all sides before I’m prepared to make a decision on how I would vote,” Sen. Mike Flood, speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, said Wednesday.

Last spring, when providing prenatal care for illegal immigrant mothers arose in the legislature, Flood objected to denying care to unborn babies for moral reasons. Asked in Wednesday’s interview if he had any moral reservations regarding Nebraska’s immigration bill, Flood said no – immigration reform is a matter of law, not morality.

“I think the process of immigration is controlled by the rule of law. … The federal law clearly states that a baby born in the United States is a citizen of the U.S.,” Flood said. Whether you agree with it or not, he said, “that’s the rule of law.”

Introduced by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, Nebraska’s immigration law (LB48) would require police who stop or arrest someone to verify whether that person is in the country legally if the officers reasonably suspect otherwise.

“I think every member (of the Legislature) has to visit with their local police department about how any bill will be implemented.  It’s one of the considerations that has to be part of this discussion,” Flood said.

The Norfolk senator said the reaction from his Madison County constituents has been frustration with the federal government. Many of them, he said, want to see the state take action against illegal immigration, but they don’t know how.

One immigration factor that Nebraskans may not realize is the inability of law enforcement to arrest and deport illegal immigrants.

“I think the citizens of this state think that illegal is illegal and when someone is violating the law, there should be a sanction,” Flood said. “Local law enforcement aren’t deputized by the federal government to make decisions. That’s up to immigration customs enforcement.”

Flood blamed the federal government’s lax immigration reform for the issues many states are now debating.  He said he would rather see the federal government step in than jump over the many hurdles of passing state legislation.

“I think everybody, pro or con on immigration issues, would rather see the federal government aggressively address this problem,” he said. “People will differ on how they should address it, but that’s no different on the state level.”

Until he gathers more information on LB48’s constitutionality, whether it will deter illegal immigration and the economic burden on law enforcement, Flood said his position on Nebraska’s immigration bill remains up in the air.

“I think the proposal from Sen. Janssen is an aggressive approach to addressing the illegal immigration problem,” Flood said. “But I think during the public hearing, we’ll hear a lot of other ideas come forward .  . . Let’s see what direction it goes.”

The speaker said Nebraska’s immigration bill likely will come up for debate in late February or early March.

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