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Capitol Letter
Democrats claim Gov. Riley stacking immigration panel

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — It’s nothing new when Democrats and Republicans sling barbs about each other to reporters.

Last week, the Alabama Democratic Party fired off an e-mail press release charging Gov. Bob Riley with stacking the Joint Patriotic Commission on Immigration.

The group, chaired by construction industry executive Jay Reed of Birmingham, meets again Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Center for Commerce’s seventh-floor conference room in Montgomery.

By appointing only industry and farming executives who say they need immigrant labor to the commission, Riley tipped the balance of opinion toward that perspective, Democrats charged.

Since four of Riley’s seven appointments to the commission together contributed at least $390,000 to his campaigns, the Democrats questioned whether the contributions helped secure the appointments.

“It is time for Alabama to have a real public policy debate on immigration, and Gov. Riley needs to lead this debate in a way that is not biased nor slanted towards vested special interests and undocumented workers,” said Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham.

Riley fires back

Riley’s press office responded with equally unflattering charges against Democrats and the state Legislature, which adopted the bill creating the commission.

“For the do-nothing Democrats to block Gov. Riley’s proposals to combat illegal immigration and then put out garbage like this reaches a whole new level of hypocrisy, even for them,” said Riley’s Communications Director Jeff Emerson.

Commission members and the organizations they represent contributed to candidates in both parties, “so that is not the issue,” Emerson said.

The real issue is why the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, has not done anything about illegal immigration, he said.

“Why did the Democrats oppose the governor’s bills to combat illegal immigration?” Emerson asked.

Commission members

Meanwhile back on the commission, members Reps. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, agree that the committee appears to be headed nowhere. They say it is the five commission members who are legislators who are outnumbered by industry.

Both say their participation at this point is on a week-to-week basis that will end if nothing of substance happens. They do not agree, however, on who is to blame for the imbalance on the commission.

‘Strong on immigration’

The governor “stands strong on immigration” and took the lead on such things as additional immigration training for state troopers, Hammon said.

Hammon said he has introduced for five years immigration bills that the governor wanted, only to see the Legislature’s Democratic leadership derail them.

“I did not ask for this commission. I did not want this commission to tell me what we need to change. I was skeptical, but I agreed to serve in hopes that it would accomplish something,” Hammon said. “Now, I don’t know.”

Hammon said the Democrats in the Legislative leadership, not Riley, are responsible for the pro-industry emphasis on the commission.

In the same way, he said, they sabotaged his bills to limit illegal immigrant access to state services and set penalties for people who cannot prove they are in the country legally.

Hinshaw agrees that most commission members represent businesses that benefit from the state not having stiff penalties for hiring illegal immigrants.

He disagrees, however, that the Legislature’s Democratic leadership’s appointments to the commission caused the group’s imbalance.

“Most industry supported Bob Riley and gave him contributions, and that is who he appointed,” Hinshaw said.

In contrast, House Speaker Seth Hammett and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom “had a pretty much balanced approach” in appointing both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature who want immigration reforms.

Hinshaw’s bills

Hinshaw also sponsored immigration reform bills in past sessions, but his bills set penalties for employers who hire people without verifying with the government whether they are in the country legally.

“Our problem is not immigrants; it is the people who hire them and do not want reform,” said Hinshaw, whose bills had no more success in the Legislature than Hammon’s.

“There is pretty compelling evidence” that Riley appointed people with an industry perspective while appointments from the Legislature were more “balanced,” he said.

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