SPRINGFIELD — Illegal immigration has been stirring up activity with lawmakers all over the county.
In light of Arizona's controversial immigration law (SB 1070) that gives law enforcement officers the right to question those suspected of being illegal immigrants, many other states have introduced similar bills.
Illinois joined the group with a similar measure, causing concern among some of the state's immigration and business attorneys.
The state's House Bill 1969 would allow law enforcement officials to stop or arrest a person where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an illegal immigrant.
Under the proposal, "the race, color or national origin may not be considered in implementing the requirements of the act except to the extent permitted by the U.S. or Illinois Constitution."
The measure states that a person must have their immigration documents. Further, it says there will be penalties for failure to carry an alien registration document.
Although, the proposed legislation is not expected to go anywhere, groups like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) have voiced concern.
Joshua Hoyt, executive director of ICIRR, said, referring to illegal immigration, "There is a lot of manipulation of fear."
The ICIRR is an organization that works for the rights of immigrants in civic, cultural, social and political life.
Hoyt said people are being manipulated to think illegal immigrants, especially Latinos, are the source of all problems in the United States.
But Hoyt said illegal immigration is more of a political issue throughout the parties, especially in the Republican Party.
Rep. Harry R. Ramey Jr., R-Carol Stream, sponsor of Illinois' immigration legislation, said he sees illegal immigrants as taking advantage of the system.
"When they say I'm being a racist against Latinos, they are the ones being racists because they are saying it's only Latinos that are illegal. I don't accept that premise," Ramey said.
Ramey said there are just as many other races who are illegal immigrants as there are Latinos.
In July, Arizona's immigration bill was signed into law and many other states have introduced copycat bills to address the issue of illegal immigration.
After the controversial law was signed the U.S. Department of Justice filed a suit against it. A district court judge put a block on implementing parts of the law, until the Justice Department's lawsuit is decided.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer appealed the block to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court struck down her appeal in early April.
Some of the states walking in the footsteps of Arizona include: California, Georgia, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky.
In mid-March, Utah and Oklahoma signed into law similar bills. However, Utah's package of immigration bills also allows illegal immigrants to gain a guest worker permit.
Illinois has now joined the group with what some call a copycat to Arizona's SB 1070.
Lawyer Ana M. Mencini said she is disappointed that Illinois is following so many other states.
A large part of Mencini's work as an immigration lawyer deals with the removal proceedings. Removal proceedings are when illegal immigrants face being deported back to their home country. Mencini said she also does work on citizenship, naturalization, deportation, real estate closings, family law, criminal defense, estate planning and administration.
Mencini said the guest worker law passed in Utah is better than what Illinois has proposed.
"It's a much better model," Mencini said. "They recognized we have a human issue here."
It's not feasible to remove 12 million illegal immigrants, she said, adding that it is good to see some people are looking at the problem realistically.
However, Ramey doesn't see it that way.
"Since they originally broke a law to be here then why am I trying to empower them and help them stay?" Ramey said.
Because the federal government is not addressing illegal immigration, Ramey said, the states needs to look at this issue because it is a cost to the state.
The states should enforce federal law and let the federal government enforce a worker's permit law, he said.
"They broke the law. They are illegal," Ramey said. "They are not immigrants. They are aliens."
Saving state dollars
Ramey said he has introduced this bill before and he knows the measure has little chance of becoming law.
The bill was put in the House Executive Committee where it is expected to die, he said, but he plans on splitting the bill up into portions and reintroducing it in the future.
Aside from giving law enforcement the right to question whose suspected of being an illegal immigrant the bill also provides that an employer shall not knowingly or intentionally employ an unauthorized immigrant. HB 1969, "provides that the act shall not be construed to require an employer to take action the employer believes in good faith would violate federal or state law."
Also, under this legislation, it would be unlawful to pick up passengers for work if doing so blocks or impedes traffic and also "provides penalties for transporting, moving, concealing, harboring or shielding unlawful aliens."
Ramey said his measure would penalize employers, go after day workers and give police officers the right to ask questions about immigration status.
Ramey said in order for his bill to be implemented, a crime would have to be committed.
He added that the bill would take the extra step and allow police to ask suspicious people for their immigration status.
"We are trying to save the state some money," Ramey said.
In Illinois, an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants cost $4.5 billion in education, health care and incarceration, Ramey said.
"If I can cut a third of that off by simply enforcing a federal law, we should take a look at it," Ramey said.
Ramey said over the years, he has been polling whether his constituents were in favor of immigration legislation. He said about 75 percent are in favor of legislation like HB 1969.
"Nationally, 68 percent of people are in favor of this type of bill," Ramey said. "I'm not in the minority."
Agreeing with Ramey is Rep. Michael W. Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, another sponsor of the measure.
"I have sitting on my desk, in the last month and a half, 200 to 300 letters from constituents regarding looking at being able to enforce immigration laws," Tryon said.
Illegal immigration is an important issue across the country and having tools to enforce the law is essential, Tryon said, adding that he thinks that is what HB 1969 would do.
Rep. Adam Brown , R-Decatur, another sponsor of the bill, said, "My constituents are strongly opposed to illegal immigrants."
Decatur has the fourth highest unemployment rate in Illinois, Brown said. His No. 1 issue is job creation, he said.
"It is tough when you see people who want jobs and want to work and abide by the law but they still can't find employment because of the illegals eating up our jobs," Brown said, adding that it is something he takes personally.
"I've had three unions come to me and say illegal immigrants have been found on their work sites," Brown said.
Some of the union-type jobs illegal immigrants take include roofing, drywalling and painting jobs, Brown said.
Brown said he is willing to look into other legislation. Because illegal immigrants do not pay into the system, he said he does not believe the state should give them assistance.
Hoyt said working for the ICIRR requires him and the organization to make sure bills like HB 1969 don't become law.
Hoyt said currently he sees illegal immigration as a major issue because of the serious demographic change. There are large amounts of Latinos in the collar counties and in central and southern Illinois, he said.
Not for this state
Attorney Scott D. Pollock said Ramey's bill is a "political grandstand."
Pollock with Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C. has been practicing immigration law for 26 years and handles citizenship, naturalization, political asylum, deportation, visa processing, employment authorization, employer sanctions and family- and employment-based immigration issues.
He represents corporations, businesses and religious organizations.
Pollock said he does not understand why lawmakers are proposing HB 1969 right now because of the state's economic situation.
Pollock stressed Arizona's loss of revenue from groups opposed to the legislation and threats of canceling conventions, trade shows and conferences because of the immigration legislation.
"That's not something Illinois should be pursuing," Pollock said. "It's a bad idea all around."
"There is a high level of frustration with federal government," Pollock said.
Because Congress fails to step in and solve the problem, Pollock said that is why this type of legislation has been coming up.
But the "solution is worse than the problem," he said.
There is already a high level of enforcement going on, Pollock said.
Mencini with Ana M. Mencini & Associates P.C., who has been an immigration attorney for 10 years, agreed with Pollock.
She said police officers already enforce forms of this bill through traffic stops, even though there is no state law currently on the books.
If stopped, police officers already ask for identification and often times immigration status, she said.
Mencini said the best advice she has for illegal immigrants is "don't drive."
But immigration attorney Andres A. Cerritos said unless the illegal immigrant has some type of criminal activity on their record, the police are not going to crack down on them.
Referring to HB 1969, Cerritos said, "It is hard to see how race doesn't play a role."
Cerritos works on issues relating to green cards, naturalization, work permits, visas, removal proceedings, political asylum and employment-based petitions.
Although Cerritos, Mencini and Pollock said if implemented this bill would not have a major affect on the work they do, they still stressed the importance of the issue.
Mencini said many undocumented immigrants were brought here by their parents and they cannot go back to their native land because they were brought here.
"There is an entire generation of undocumented people," Mencini said. "Everyone at some point came here. That's what makes us who we are."
Cerritos knows firsthand what it means to be an immigrant.
He was born in El Salvador during the Salvadorian civil war, and came to the United States when he was 4.
He said his father was forced to leave the country because they were killing school teachers. Cerritos and his mother came to the United States to be reunited with his father. They applied for political asylum.
Cerritos did not become a citizen until he was 22.
Looking back, he said, he was at risk of being deported.
"I never considered being deported," he said, adding that not being able to continue his studies was what made him realize he was at risk for deportation.
"It touched me personally," Cerritos said, referring to immigration law.
Attorney Michelle J. Rozovics said, "This bill has a number of problems from a small business prospective."
Rozovics is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association's International and Immigration Law Section Council.
She said the committee reviews legislation and looks into how it will affect various areas.
Rozovics with Rozovics Law Firm LLC said in HB1969 the definitions of who an employer and employee is can cause some confusion, specifically an independent contractor.
She said when putting all the definitions into play the employer is going to have the extra burden because they will have to check on which definitions to actually use.
"If this bill became law, employers will be at loss," Rozovics said. "It will be confusing and cause a lot of problems," Rozovics said.
However, Ramey does not agree with her.
"There is no extra burden," Ramey said. "You just have to do your diligence and follow the federal law."
Ramey said a program for verifying citizens is already available for employers. The E-verifying list, he said, is a simple and free system, all the employer would have to do is enter in the employees name and Social Security number.
Rozovics said it is not just putting the name and Social Security number in the system, there are other requirements such as driver's license. A driver's license might not be required information to apply for a job, she said, so the employer may have to go the extra step to get additional information.
"There are bugs in the system," Rozovics said. "It doesn't work 100 percent of the time."
Rozovics said in situations where there is a computer glitch, the employer can spend months trying to solve an immigration issue.
And what happens if the citizen is legal, she said, adding that the employer and employee will be at loss because the job will not be filled.
Those opposing the bill said they feel that HB 1969 is the wrong step for the state and citizens.
Hoty, from ICIRR, said: "This is not who we are in Illinois."