Immigrant status in focus

I-1122: Initiative would require checks before issuing of benefits, driver licenses

January 24, 2011 

Anti-illegal immigration groups are making another push to tighten rules against undocumented residents of the state with Initiative 1122, filed this month by a group called Respect Washington.

The initiative, the fifth in a series of similar proposals in Washington, would require state workers to check immigration status before issuing public benefits or a driver license, employers to check the immigration status of all workers, and law enforcement to check the status of all people charged with felonies.

According to the secretary of state’s archives, similar initiatives were filed in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, but none reached voters. The 2010 initiative, also filed by Respect Washington, received 30,000 out of 250,000 signatures needed to make it onto the November ballot.

Craig Keller, co-founder of Respect Washington and the leader of I-1122, said the issue was important because undocumented immigrants should not influence state spending and decision making.

“That’s a corrupt influence,” he said of undocumented residents’ concerns. “It’s an influence that doesn’t lead to good public policy.”

In the past, Keller said, Respect Washington has relied on some newspaper advertising and citizens to gather signatures. He said that this year the organization might use mailings and paid petition gatherers if it could raise enough money.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the initiative.

Doug Honig, a spokesman for the Washington branch of the ACLU, said the database this initiative would require public employers to use to check their workers’ Social Security numbers, called E-verify, was notoriously inaccurate and had sometimes led to legal residents losing their jobs.

Also, Honig said, getting local law enforcement to focus on immigration status can lead immigrant communities to lose trust in police, which makes them less likely to cooperate in investigations.

“Federal immigration law is very complex, and when you have local law enforcement trying to enforce it, it makes our communities less safe and healthy,” Honig said.

Senate Bill 5338, introduced by Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, includes many of the same provisions as the initiative, including the requirements that immigration status be verified for driver licenses, public benefits and employment in the state.

Stevens said she thought the economic downturn had made tighter immigration rules a more popular idea, though she didn’t know if her bill would get a hearing.

“We are in a budget crisis as everyone is aware, and we are spending a lot of money on the illegals in our state,” said Stevens. “We have citizens who are doing without.”

Stevens also has two other bills, Senate bills 5333 and 5335, that would require state workers to check immigration status when issuing and renewing driver licenses. A similar bill introduced in 2010 by Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, did not get a hearing.

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