The General Assembly has just about reached the halfway point. The House passed 114 bills and 149 bills passed out of the Senate. The process will now start over as the House has begun to hear the Senate bills, and the Senate has scheduled hearings for the House bills. As part of the legislative process, many of these bills will be whittled down or killed.
One of the more important bills the Senate sent to us deals with undocumented immigration. Senate Bill 335 focuses on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Controlling and deporting undocumented immigrants is the responsibility of the federal government, but because of its inaction, states must create laws to deal with the problem.
Undocumented immigration has become a major national and state issue over the last few years. Since 2000, the Center for Immigration Studies Analysis estimates that 3.7 million undocumented immigrants have entered the country. In Indiana, according to Pew Hispanic Center estimates, there are between 55,000 and 85,000 undocumented immigrants.
According to Mitch Roob, secretary of the state Family and Social Services Administration, Indiana taxpayers spend about $5 million a year for Medicaid health care for undocumented aliens. The federal government also supplies additional tax money to help subsidize their health care.
Under SB 335, the superintendent of the Indiana State Police must enter into a memorandum of understanding concerning a pilot project for the enforcement of federal immigration and customs laws. Federal policy allows Indiana to reach an agreement with the U.S. attorney general to allow our law enforcement personnel to investigate, apprehend, detain and transport unauthorized aliens. This would allow Indiana police officers to transport undocumented immigrants to detention centers, so they can be processed and returned to their native country.
In addition to enforcement policy, SB 335 requires employers to check on the immigration status of their employees. As the bill is currently written, employers would be required to use E-verify beginning Sept. 30, 2009.
E-verify is an Internet-based system, operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration, that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Employers would simply enter the potential employees' Social Security number into the system and would receive almost-instantaneous response. There is no cost to the employer to utilize E-verify.
I believe that E-verify is an easy system that can quickly verify the legal status of any employer. Employers can voluntarily sign-up at www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration. For more information on how the program works, visit http://www.uscis.gov/files/nativedocuments/E4_english.pdf.
SB 335 is not a total solution to the immigration problem, but it is a start. Focusing on employers is only the first step in controlling undocumented immigration. I will continue to work with my fellow legislators to provide proactive solutions until the federal government can agree to a permanent plan.
The speaker of the House has not assigned the bill to a committee yet. The bill, if heard, will likely be altered as it moves through the legislative process.
Each legislative body has the opportunity to make changes to the bills before they are returned to their houses of origin. If the second house makes no changes to the bill, it goes directly to the governor for his signature. On the other hand, if changes have been made to the bill in the second house, which is likely with SB 335, two things may happen: The bill returns to its house of origin where it can be voted on for approval; or if the author of the amended bill does not like the changes the opposite chamber made, it is sent to a conference committee.
A conference committee consists of a bipartisan group made up of one legislator from each of the four legislative caucuses. Many of the high-profile bills, including the property tax relief plan, will most likely end up in a conference committee.
The process can be confusing, but if you have questions or want more information on a bill, please contact me. Send letters to me at 200 W. Washington St., Room 401, Indianapolis, IN 46204; e-mails to H53@in.gov; or call toll-free 1-800-382-9841.