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Committee, citizens question immigration bill

March 3, 2011

A packed crowd attended the Mar. 2 Judiciary Committee hearing in the state Capitol.

story by Paige Cornwell photos by Kyle Bruggeman

In a contentious three -hour hearing Wednesday, some state legislators vigorously challenged a proposed Nebraska immigration bill, questioning its cost, enforceability and racial implications.

For more than an hour, judiciary committee members questioned Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen about LB48, his proposed Arizona-style immigration bill. Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln questioned whether the bill would be an additional burden on taxpayers who would have to pay for detaining those arrested.

“Even if we were to take in more illegal immigrants, if the federal government is just going to let them sit in our jail and that ends up costing us money, do you have a response to that?” McGill asked.

Janssen said that the need to enforce immigration laws would outweigh the costs.

“If we had a lot of murders and rapes going on, yes it would cost more to take more police officer time, but should we be enforcing the laws? Yes,” Janssen said.

LB48, the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, would require police officers, when enforcing other laws, to verify the status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. The bill is modeled after an Arizona measure.

Judicial members questioned the bill’s language and what it means when it states that police officers must have “reasonable suspicion” when determining a person’s status while enforcing other laws. Sen. Burke Harr asked what would happen if a police officer pulled over someone, found out they were illegal, then during investigation determined they had not committed an offense.

“A person is stopped, and the offense is an infraction, however, the investigation discovers the person is unlawfully present, what does that law enforcer do at that point?” Harr asked.

Omaha Police Lt. Todd Schmaderer later expressed concern that reasonable suspicion had been well-defined, so it would be difficult for officers to enforce the bill.

“Omaha police does not believe they have the manpower to assume this additional law enforcement role,” Schmaderer said.

Sen. Brenda Council asked Janssen how reasonable suspicion would be determined. She said the bill would increase racial profiling because officers would use skin color or lack of knowledge of the English language as factors in determining whether someone might not be a citizen.

“I am one who believes that LB48 promotes racial profiling,” Council said.

At the end of the hour, Sen. Brad Ashford, judiciary committee chairman, said that the states would never have immigration reform until the federal government worked for reform, too. A bill with “numerous constitutional issues” would not fix the problem, he said.

“We’re never going to get there, Charlie, we’re never going to get there until the House and Senate vote,” Ashford said.

After Janssen’s testimony six pro-bill supporters focused on what they said illegal immigrants cost American taxpayers.

John Freudenberg, representing the Attorney General’s Office, said Attorney General Jon Bruning supported the bill and that the state had the manpower to enforce the bill. He said, in his opinion, the bill was constitutional.

Susan Smith of the Nebraska Advisory Council said that if a person is pulled over and doesn’t speak English it would still be cause for a police officer to reasonably suspect them of being an illegal immigrant.

“If a person is here and is pulled over and they’re driving and they don’t speak English, I would think that would be a big concern. If they don’t speak English, how do they read the signs, how do they get around?” Smith asked. “I would think that would make the streets more dangerous.”

Then, nine opponents of the bill testified, citing many of the same concerns of the judiciary committee. Civil rights attorney SA Mora James said that the bill would break a trust between law enforcement and immigrant women and children.

“The atmosphere this bill has created,” she said, “…is making it an open season on immigrant women .”

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