Immigration bill stalled

Lawmakers seek compromise before session ends

By Eric Bradner

Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:38 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers are attempting to smooth out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration before this year's session wraps up on Friday.

The version of Senate Bill 590 that Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel drafted and the Senate approved would have Indiana impose an Arizona-style crackdown in which law enforcement officers check the immigration status of those they arrest or pull over for traffic violations.

The House, though, pulled those provisions out and aimed the bill at employers. That draft nudges businesses to use the E-Verify program to check new hires' legal status. Those that don't would lose out on tax credits.

Now, the joint House-Senate panel is attempting to find middle ground.

"Our goal is to try to get a product that all four caucuses can agree to and get this issue put to rest once and for all in the state of Indiana," Delph said.

The most controversial proposal Delph made was to allow law enforcement officers to use an inability to speak English as a reason to check someone's immigration status. On that, he has some allies.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said his wife immigrated to the United States and learned English after arriving. That, he said, is what all immigrants should do.

"I don't think it's proper that somebody walks across an imaginary line and they get the same privileges as someone who worked very hard," he said. "If you're a citizen and you don't know English, then there's a problem."

But Rep. Bill Davis, the Portland Republican who was an architect of many of the House's changes, said the bill ought to urge businesses to hire those who are in Indiana legally.

"We took an approach more directed to things that we could actually control in Indiana," he said. "Things that we can't control are things that the federal government is charged with doing."

Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, said something should be done to protect Hoosier jobs and ensure that income taxes are being collected. "I just have a basic feeling about immigration that we need to some sort of sensible conclusion to this debate. If it's not going to happen elsewhere, it's only reasonable that we have this in the state," he said.

This year's legislative session must end by Friday night, and Delph said he expects that a vote on the budget usually the last item lawmakers deal with could come as soon as Thursday.

Delph said he is not sure whether he will accept the House version portions of which he succeeded in having amended into the Senate's version of the budget bill or try to restore the bill to something closer to its original form.