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Legislature urged to abandon bills on immigration

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Several Alabama groups that work with Hispanic immigrants urged the Legislature on Tuesday to abandon legislation cracking down on illegal immigration and leave it to Congress to develop a national policy.

Rosa Maria Toussaint-Ortiz, a member of the Hispanic Evangelical Pastors and Leaders of Alabama, said the state's elected officials shouldn't rush into passing immigration laws without understanding the issues better.

"A word of caution for government officials and Alabama citizens: Lack of English is not equal to illegal alien," Toussaint-Ortiz said at a news conference on the Statehouse steps.

The news conference by a dozen groups in Montgomery coincided with demonstrations throughout America to demand a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Toussaint-Ortiz, born in the Dominican Republic and reared in Puerto Rico, has been a U.S. citizen since 1981, has served in the U.S. Army, and is now starting her own business in Huntsville. She said that because her of accent, she often gets questioning looks at government agencies, banks and other locations where paperwork is required.

She recalled how her niece, a Puerto Rican citizen, moved to Huntsville a few years ago and tried to get a driver license. Driver license examiners initially refused to believe her documentation, claiming it was bogus, she said.

Several bills to crack down on illegal immigrants were introduced in the Legislature last year and again this year. They include bills to deny state contracts to businesses unless they certify they have not hired illegal immigrants and to seize the vehicles of illegal immigrants involved in traffic accidents.

John Pickens, organizer of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said Alabama lawmakers should stop pursuing "piecemeal, ill-conceived legislation."

A sponsor of some of the legislation, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said the Legislature needs to act because Congress is doing nothing while the problem gets worse.

"The people of Alabama are fed up with people living in their communities who don't have to follow the same set of rules they have to follow," Hammon said.

Dothan consultant Rich Lopez, who helps businesses market to the Hispanic and Latino communities, said he would like to see the bills in the Alabama Legislature die and then see Congress enact legislation that would let longtime immigrants who have jobs pay a fine and get documentation to continue working in the United States.

Lopez estimated there are 30,000 undocumented immigrants in the 11 counties in southeast Alabama, most of them holding farming, construction and service jobs "that most people don't want to do."

Another sponsor of immigration legislation, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he wants people to prove their legal status when getting state business licenses and permits and when getting marriage licenses.

The freshman senator said he is tired of the government having to pay the hospital bills of illegal workers hired by businesses that don't provide them with health insurance.

"Ultimately, what we are doing is subsidizing corporations that aren't offering health insurance. And it deflates the wages of our working people," Orr said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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