Cox appears before Indiana House panel concerning pending legislation
By ED RONCO
Tribune Staff Writer (Summary)
INDIANAPOLIS - A South Bend priest told state representatives Wednesday that if a tough new illegal immigration bill becomes law, the city could see major economic loss.
Senate Bill 335, sponsored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, would let local and state police enforce federal immigration and customs laws and prohibit state agencies from doing business with contractors who hire illegal immigrants.
The meat of the legislation, though, gives businesses three strikes to avoid hiring illegal workers. The first time a business was caught hiring illegal immigrants, it would receive a warning. On the second offense within a 10-year span, the business could see its license suspended for 10 days. If a third infraction was committed within 10 years of the initial offense, the business could lose its license to operate in Indiana. Those provisions would take effect in late 2009.
That could cause many in South Bend and surrounding communities to pack up and move, leaving dire economic consequences in their wake, said the Rev. Christopher Cox, pastor of St. Adalbert and St. Casimir Roman Catholic churches in South Bend.
According to a soon-to-be-published study from the University of Notre Dame, undocumented workers provide about $3,100 each in economic benefit to South Bend every month, Cox told the House Public Policy Committee on Wednesday.
If you want to guarantee a recession, this bill is a pretty good place to start, he said.
But state Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Lakeville, questioned Cox, asking if he was ignoring the rule of law in favor of opening U.S. borders to illegal immigration.
We have a broken system, Cox told her. Im suggesting that its not relief (the bill) will bring, but economic hardship.
The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County also opposes the bill. Putting a company out of business because of the actions of its hiring manager is too strict, said Mark Eagan, president and chief executive of the Chamber.
Thats not going to be good for the people who work there, he said. Thats not going to be good for Indianas economy.
Eagan did not testify, but spoke to The Tribune afterward by phone.
Other opponents of the legislation have argued the bill promotes racism by encouraging employers to be wary of Hispanic applicants. Delph said the idea that his bill is about racial issues is not correct, and its not right.
This bill will not end racism, nor will it create racism, Delph, the Senate author, told the committee. We have good American citizens just as patriotic as you and me who get discriminated against without Senate Bill 335.
One of the witnesses, Army veteran Lt. Col. Ray Mejia, echoed Delphs sentiment. Mejias father obtained his green card in 1960, and Mejia joined him in 1968. He obtained citizenship in 1982. He said if people come to the United States, its important for them to do so legally.
Van Haaften and other committee members expressed concern that the bill applies only to employees who work at least 1,500 hours a year. Nonprofit foundations, religious organizations and hospitals are exempted from the legislation, and companies who check their employees through the federal governments electronic verification system, known as E-Verify, are immune from prosecution under the bill, too.
Another provision in the bill, which makes it against the law to transport an illegal immigrant, applies only to those who do so for profit, Delph said. The goal is to prevent human trafficking, he said.