If feds won't act on immigration, Iowa may have to

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Steve Kettering doesn't pull many punches, and the hot-button issue of immigration is no exception.

"We're in the same place as we were going into last session on immigration - and that's because we didn't really do anything," Kettering said.

With Democrats in control of both chambers of the statehouse, the Lake View Republican said he and fellow GOP state legislators felt powerless to have their ideas heard on issues like illegal immigration control.

The issue is one that should have been dealt with on the federal level, he says. "In the absense of that, the state will have to do something," he says.

The issue has to start and end on the doorstep of employers.

"There are a multitude of things that can be done, but employers have to be responsible in their hiring. I think most of the businesses in our area are responsible, but people who create fraudulent documents have really perfected their art."

Kettering favors an online system for employers to use to check on the identities of their applicants, to try to weed out people getting hired using false or stolen identification. "We need to be doing that."

He also hopes the legislature can step up enforcement.

"Last year it was proposed to have a trooper for every designated area of the state who would be dedicated to dealing with illegal immigration, and other troopers with special training in immigration issues," Kettering said. "It died for lack of a second, and I don't know that it will go over any better this coming session."

Such an action is needed to help local law enforcement that may be overwhelmed in communities with large numbers of immigrants, he feels.

"I haven't heard anything coming from the mouths of those who will dictate the agenda that leads me to believe that anything will be forthcoming. I am amazed that in this state that so badly wants good jobs, it seems that we have do little respect for those who provide them, that we make it really hard for them to employ people with the regulation we have."

A strong distinction needs to be made between legal and illegal immigration in Iowa, and the former should be encouraged, the senator believes.

"There is no question we have jobs available. There needs to be a mechanism put in place that that lets people come

into the county to fill those jobs on a legal basis. It could be allowing for some form of a work visa program - I am not anti-that at all."

While Iowa has a crying need for bright young minds in particular fields - certain forms of health research, advanced math and sciences teaching and so on - it is very hard for Iowa to target such people from other countries to lure in.

"There are allocations for specific numbers of those people in each area at the federal level, and that means Iowa doesn't get many of them," the senator said. "There is also a problem with young people we attract in to be educated at our universities - they overstay their visas and without the necessary arrangements, they end up as just more illegal immigrants."

Kettering is not in favor of allowing people who are currently illegal to avoid deportation, however. "If you want to come here, great - come legally. If you don't, you can't be allowed to go to the front of the line."

Hard-hitting community raids like the one at Postville are not the best way to deal with the issue, but they are likely to happen more often in Iowa, he beleives. "A raid like Postville strikes fear into everybody. Do I think it's the best way? No - but it is going to happen, and with more frequency."

The problem would be considerably less in Iowa if the federal government would better defend the Mexican border, he said.

"Of course, it is all moot if they would handle it at the job level. If illegal immigrants can't access the jobs, there won't be illegal immigrants. That's the magnet," he said.

The staunch Republican doesn't have much to say for his party's Administration on the issue, either.

"It is not a partisan thing to say that we have had an absolute failure to defend our own borders."

Iowa hasn't done much to defend its borders, either.

"On opening day of the legislature last year, I heard the talk about how it was going to be a bipartisan effort. I suspect I'll hear the same thing on opening day this year," the senator says.

The best thing that could happen, in his opinion, would be the Republicans gaining control of an Iowa House that is split on a razor's edge, as Democrats retain their control of the Senate.

"When one party controls the power in both, there isn't much need to be bipartisan. If the control becomes split, I predict that their will suddenly be a significant increase in bipartisan effort. I think they call it the art if compromise," Kettering said.

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