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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval today to comprehensive reforms designed to fight illegal immigration activity in Missouri and to protect Missourians from the tens of millions of dollars it costs taxpayers each year. Senate Bill 858, sponsored by Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzille, would crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants with stiffer fines and penalties, ban illegal immigrants from attending public universities and junior colleges, and prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses. The reforms also reinforce existing federal law that blocks illegal residents from receiving state or local public benefits.
“We heartily welcome citizens who legally come to Missouri, but we cannot continue to tolerate illegal immigration offenses that are dearly costing Missouri taxpayers and severely hurting our economy,” Rupp said. “These reforms send a message that Missouri is prepared to handle a tough issue that has received little action from Washington, D.C.”
Rupp’s wide-ranging bill tackles illegal immigration on several fronts with new or revised laws for employers, state and local governments and agencies, and individuals. Missouri employers, who are barred from hiring illegal immigrants, could lose state contracts, tax credits, grants, licenses or loans if they knowingly employ illegal workers. It also requires employers on state contracts or using state grants, loans or tax credits to participate in a federal work authorization program to be eligible for state contracts. Public employers would also be required to participate in the program. The new laws also apply to general contractors and subcontractors and would make them potentially liable for instances of illegal hiring fraud.
Those applying for public benefits could only qualify if they can provide proof of citizenship, residency, or lawful presence. Those born on or before Aug. 28, 2008 (when the bill would take affect if signed into law), can attend or remain in college if they spent three semesters prior to their application enrolled in a Missouri high school and were unable to receive in-state tuition.
Other reforms in the bill, originally drafted by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, would deny bail for jailed individuals who cannot prove legal residency and limit the number of withholding exemptions an individual can take on his or her state tax return.
The bill also requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested or detained in Missouri and for municipalities to work with local law enforcement agencies to provide yearly status reports on the number of those checked.
Senate Leader Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, says the state must act.
“Congress’ inability to secure our borders is putting us all at risk,” he said. “We want to protect jobs, education and healthcare benefits for hardworking Missouri families and these reforms do that.”
More information about the bill is available at www.senate.mo.gov, keyword search SB858.