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Panel studies illegals issues
Commission to plan immigration strategy for state Legislature

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — An immigration study committee had its plate full Wednesday as its members plotted their first step toward recommendations for the 2008 Legislature.

The state Legislature created the 27-member Joint Patriotic Immigration Commission this year to study immigration issues.

With lawmakers, business leaders, immigration advocates, farmers and others represented on the commission, members say consensus will not be easy.

"People are already skeptical of this commission," said commission member Wendy Padilla Madden, an attorney and lobbyist from Hoover, and the daughter of a North Carolina man who emigrated from the U.S. to Guatemala where he met her mother.

A child of divorce, Madden said her mother never filled out the paperwork to register her as a U.S. citizen, so she had to go through the immigration process herself 15 years ago. Now she works with immigrants applying to work and live in this country.

Commission members include Reps. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, both past sponsors of bills on illegal immigration, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

Hammon called for commission members whose opinions vary greatly to work together.

"There are lots of groups represented here, lots of people with agendas, some too far to one side or the other," Hammon said. "We need not to discriminate against Hispanic citizens, and we need to work together."

Hammon said one possible outcome could be an organized effort "to put pressure on Washington to act on the immigration issue."

The federal government's failure to enact an effective immigration policy is the main reason Alabama has to tackle the problem on a state level, he said.

Hammon and Hinshaw sponsored bills to limit illegal immigrant access to state services. Hinshaw also wanted penalties for people who employ workers here illegally.

Both also called for the commission to hold public hearings so Alabamians in different parts of the state have a chance for input. The committee voted to do so.

Commission Chairman Jay Reed, vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors in Birmingham, first objected to public hearings, saying that the commission could learn what it needs from experts.

But Hammon pushed for hearings, Bedford seconded Hammon's motion, and the committee approved. Hammon said many members of the Legislature are not from areas with many immigrants. "They need to hear from people who are," he said.

An electrical subcontractor in Decatur for 30 years, Hammon said he could no longer build the business he sold about three years ago because of problems with immigrant labor.

"I never hired illegals, I paid health insurance and workers comp on my employees, but today I could not compete with the people who do not," Hammon said. "Subcontracting used to be the way that people could take themselves from being poor to middle class more. Not anymore."

Bedford, who said his district has more illegal immigrants than any other area in the state, outlined problems that people in his district describe. They include eight people in one manufactured housing plant using the same Social Security number and many workers in the area driving cars with Mississippi license plates because they do not have to show proof of insurance there like they do in Alabama.

The commission will meet every two weeks. Public hearings on the draft immigration plan will follow before the commission reports to the Legislature in February.

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