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DES MOINES – Two Iowa Republicans running for governor staked out get-tough positions on illegal immigration Friday.
In separate media interviews, Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats and Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, both said they – if either is elected governor next November -- would seek to more actively curb the presence of people illegally working, residing or receiving government benefits in Iowa without proper documentation given the failure of federal and Iowa officials to address the issue properly.
Vander Plaats told a WHO radio audience he would propose legislation based on a new Arizona law that makes it a crime to be in the country illegally because Iowa must “put some teeth behind” its enforcement of immigration laws.
He said he supports an Arizona law that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires local police to enforce federal immigration laws. It also requires anyone whom police suspect of being in the country illegally to produce an alien registration document, such as a green card or other proof of citizenship, such as a passport or a state driver's license.
“Not only will I support Gov. Joy Brewer's plan but I will pursue similar legislation in Iowa,” Vander Plaats said during the radio interview. “What Arizona is doing is not just a reflection of what Arizonans feel but what Iowans feel, too. The federal government has proven inept and has shown no interest in dealing with the issue. It's time for states to step up.”
Roberts, during a meeting with Des Moines Register editorial board members carried live on the newspapers Web site, said the federal government has been “very lax” in enforcing law intended to curb illegal immigration, which means it has fallen to the states to take on that enforcement role.
Roberts said his administration would require proper documentation of legal residency before providing benefits to people applying for government assistance. He also would advocate taking punitive measures against businesses or employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. He said he would take “a serious look” at implementing a law similar to Arizona given the federal “unwillingness” to address the issue that has angered and frustrated American citizens.
“I believe the federal government has failed the states, I think it's failed the citizens to enforce the laws that are already on the books,” he said. “Unless the federal government steps up and does something, every state is going to follow suit, and Iowa should proactively look at the challenge we have here.”
Roberts estimated that state government spends up to $92 million in benefits to people who do not have legal status to be in Iowa. He said that taking away access to those benefits would take away the incentive for undocumented residents to stay in Iowa.
Vander Plaats took issue with current state enforcement efforts, saying Gov. Chet Culver's actions are not commensurate with his rhetoric.
“Gov. Culver is right when he says illegal is illegal, but we have to put some teeth behind it. He said we need to enforce current laws on the books but his administration is not doing that,” Vander Plaats said. “It began with his predecessor and he has continued the practice where they don't refer to ‘illegal aliens' but instead call them ‘undocumented immigrants.' They are here illegally.”
For that reason, Vander Plaats said, he favors an Arizona-style approach for determining if an individual is in the country illegally if reasonable cause for suspicion exists.
“I'm not sure why we'd say let's let them commit some other crime before we hold them accountable for being here illegally,” Vander Plaats said. “You also have to dry up the reason for them to be here in the first place: people that knowingly hire illegal workers.”
Donn Stanley, manager of the Culver/Judge re-election campaign, said Culver does not support the recently enacted Arizona law.
“The problem of illegal immigration is a national problem that needs a federal remedy. A comprehensive federal answer is needed to address this important issue, not a patchwork of state laws,” Stanley said.
“Gov. Culver has always cooperated with federal authorities to enforce the law in Iowa. He believes many illegal immigrants work for sub-minimum wages in workplaces that don't come close to meeting health and safety standards. This isn't fair to Iowa workers and businesses that play by the rules. Iowa will continue to enforce the minimum wage law and other basic labor standards, and make sure that employers obey the law,” he added.
Tim Albrecht, spokesman for former Gov. Terry Branstad, the third Republican seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the June 8 primary election, said Branstad has been a long-time supporter of legal immigration, and believes Iowa should welcome those who come to the state legally.
“He does not believe we should offer amnesty, sanctuary cities or state-funded assistance to those who broke our laws to come here illegally,” Albrecht said. “The governor believes we should enforce our existing laws, and if federal officials refuse to enforce our border laws, then we will need to look at Iowa-specific legislation with regard to illegal immigration.”
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