House committee chairman says 'lock-em-up' approach to immigration is too costly

02/08/2011 07:09 PM

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Jeffersontown, has called law enforcement officials to testify in his committee Wednesday about how many more officers they would need if the General Assembly passed the Senate’s version of an immigration bill.

Riggs, chairman of the House Local Government Committee, said on Pure Politics Tuesday that he’s skeptical of the effects and costs of Senate Bill 6, which would allow local law enforcement agents to arrest people found to be in the country illegally.

“There’s no money, there’s no extra law enforcement personnel, no extra jail guards. It is just strictly a bill that starts with one new misdemeanor and three new felonies,” Riggs said of S.B. 6.

He called it a “let’s lock ‘em up approach.” And he said could potentially lead to many of the estimated 50,000 illegal immigrants in the state landing in local jails that currently have fewer than 400 open beds.

Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union carried the Senate bill and testified in Riggs’ committee last week that the legislation isn’t a mandate — but instead gives Kentucky law enforcement agents “another tool in the tool box” to arrest those who are in the country illegally.

The Legislative Research Committee estimated that the bill would have a net cost to the state of $40 million.

Riggs also quoted immigration and deportation statistics that show the number of deportations has increased from 2007 to 2010, citing data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Riggs said law enforcement officials will testify at the noon hearing Wednesday. Also representatives from the Kentucky Council of Churches and other religious organizations were invited to air their concerns about whether churches that help illegal immigrants in any way would be at risk of being penalized under the law for aiding illegal immigrants.

Riggs and other House Democrats are pushing a different approach to immigration, a bill that would require businesses that contract with the state to check the immigration status of employees using the federal database called e-Verify.

That legislation passed the full House on Tuesday by a 90-6 vote. It passed the House last year and stalled in the Senate.

“We think that if the jobs aren’t here, then the illegal immigrants won’t come here,” Riggs said.

- Ryan Alessi

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