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Several bills focus on illegals

Whether telling police to enforce federal law, requiring employers to check workers' documents or creating a new type of driving permit, nearly 20 bills related to immigration issues are pending in the 2007 General Assembly.

The myriad bills follow last spring's national debate about immigration reform, which included rallies in cities around the country, including Lexington.

All of which might explain why a coalition of groups is expected Wednesday in Frankfort for an immigrants' and refugees' rights advocacy day -- a first for Kentucky, organizers say.

The focus will be on two bills introduced last week, one that calls for the repeal of a decades-old law, which has never been enforced, that restricts rights of immigrants without naturalization papers to own property.

The second is a bill filed by Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, calling for the creation of "certificates for driving" that could be issued to individuals who cannot prove citizenship. The documents would not be used for identification purposes, but would allow police and transportation officials to better regulate drivers in Kentucky who are undocumented, according to the bill.

"The reality is there are a lot of undocumented people living in Kentucky, and employers want their employees to legally drive," said Maria Ramirez, a program associate with the ACLU of Kentucky and one of the advocacy day's organizers. "It makes our streets safer. Individuals would have to go through the same tests to know what our driving laws are and it should help with insurance."

What probably won't be emphasized on Wednesday are a number of bills filed with the intent to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Bills that call for stricter enforcement of immigration laws include requiring local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws and requiring state contractors to verify the immigrant status of their employees. Several legislators have also filed bills recognizing human trafficking as a crime.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, who annually files bills concerning immigration, said he thinks people are frustrated with the failed attempts in Washington to reform immigration and want state or local leaders to do something to enforce the law.

"I think citizens are beginning to voice their concerns, not just to me, but to representatives all over the state," Lee said. "They're going to their local senator, their local representative and saying, 'Look, this is an issue, a problem the federal government is not addressing. We want you guys to take a look at it.'"

Still, Lee, who is running for attorney general, isn't holding his breath for any of the immigration-related bills to pass this year. He doesn't think his bills or others have much of a chance to even be considered in Democratic-controlled House committees.

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