By JASON NOBLE
JEFFERSON CITY | A bill increasing requirements on local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law and verify legal status won approval Thursday in the Missouri House.
The bill — the second of four illegal-immigration measures expected to clear the House this year — also included provisions regarding driver’s licenses and sanctuary cities.
The Senate approved an omnibus bill containing a few of the measures and several more last week.
In floor debate Thursday, Republicans praised the bill as a necessary response to federal inaction on the illegal immigration issue.
“We need to act now — and I mean right now,” said Rep. Gary Dusenberg, a Blue Springs Republican. “Illegal immigration is negatively affecting our health systems, our school system and our corrections system. This bill will do something about it.”
Democrats, however, castigated nearly every aspect of the bill as ineffectual or potentially harmful.
“Anyone that goes home and tells their constituents we did something about illegal immigration is simply a shameless liar,” said Rep. Jeff Roorda, a Barnhart Democrat.
In its main provision, the bill requires officers of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to be deputized as federal immigration agents through an agreement and training with the Department of Homeland Security.
“This was about the rule of law and about law enforcement against those illegal immigrants we want least in our state — those who come here and are criminals,” said Rep. Bob Onder, the bill’s sponsor.
Gov. Matt Blunt and highway patrol officials announced their intent to apply for the federal training in January. Before moving forward, however, they’re seeking authorization from the legislature, said Onder, a St. Louis County Republican.
The bill also puts into statute a directive ordered by Blunt last August requiring law enforcement officers to verify the residency status of everyone arrested in the state. Under the bill, verification would be required anytime a person’s immigration status couldn’t be determined based on the documents in his or her possession at the time of arrest.
The Senate’s bill includes a similar provision, although it would not require verification of every person arrested.
The legislation passed Thursday would also:
*require tests for commercial driver’s licenses to be administered in English and prohibit the use of translators,
*criminalize assisting a person in fraudulently obtaining a driver’s license, and
*prohibit cities from enacting “sanctuary” policies preventing employees from complying with federal immigration law.
Democrats argued the English requirement for license tests and anti-sanctuary policies could make legal immigrants’ lives more difficult.
“Bills like this tell (immigrants and minority groups) that we’d really just rather not have you here,” said Mike Daus, a St. Louis Democrat.
The bill now moves on to the Senate for consideration. A House bill barring illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and universities is also in line for Senate debate.
Two House immigration bills remain unfinished, said Rep. Jerry Nolte, a Gladstone Republican and chairman of the immigration committee.
One seeks to limit public assistance for illegal immigrants while the other clamps down on employers who hire undocumented workers.
Those should both move forward in the next couple weeks, Nolte said.