Two lawmakers file bills targeting illegal immigrants

At least two Nevada legislators are pursuing bills on illegal immigration for the 2009 legislative session, even though similar bills didn’t get very far last time.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Henderson, has requested a bill to punish employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, and Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, has asked for a bill that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving most kinds of state assistance and from getting Nevada driver’s licenses.

Cobb’s bill would be similar to one he introduced in 2007 that would have prohibited people living in the United States illegally from receiving welfare and unemployment compensation.

He acknowledged that illegal immigrants are already prohibited by law from receiving these benefits, but said such laws are not enforced.

“We want to make it clear these new regulations will be enforced,” Cobb said.

Beers said his bill will be based on Oklahoma legislation and would penalize employers who “circumvent the law” by knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

He’s not optimistic about the bill’s future.

“I don’t expect this one to go anywhere, either,” Beers said. “But if, as a representative, I see laws being flagrantly broken … and do nothing about it, I’m being a hypocrite and violating my oath of office.”

Cobb said he will continue working toward such “common sense” legislation even if unsuccessful.

“We’ve got to keep bringing this issue to the forefront so Nevada voters have a real understanding of who their representatives are,” Cobb said.

But the legislator anticipates “very active support” from Republicans for his bill.

“Hopefully we’ll bring on a few Democrats as well,” Cobb said.

He said he and Beers are not working together on the bills.

Both men were first elected to the Assembly in 2006 and are up for re-election this year.

They both also were recently rated among the three most conservative members of the Assembly, along with Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, in an analysis by conservative political analyst Chuck Muth.

Cobb said that during his last campaign he learned that illegal immigration was the “number one issue” among his constituents.

He and Beers blamed Democrats in the Legislature for blocking bills related to illegal immigration.

“We have a lot of people in politics who are going to be screaming about discrimination when this bill comes up,” Beers said. “For some reason, obeying the law is now discrimination.”

Cobb’s bill also would prohibit non-U.S. citizens from voting, which they are already prohibited from doing.

Both he and Beers said they believe some undocumented immigrants have somehow circumvented that prohibition and have been voting illegally.

“We need to make it very clear that we in Nevada allow the vote only for those who are U.S. citizens,” Cobb said.

Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, disputed the notion that ineligible people have been voting in Nevada.

“It’s hard enough to get (eligible) people to vote,” he said.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said he doesn’t believe voting by illegal immigrants is a “big problem” in Clark County.

“My personal opinion is, if you were here illegally, why would you want to draw attention to yourself by illegally voting?” he said.

Lomax said while there’s no way to know for sure how many ineligible voters are actually casting votes, his office does run driver’s license or Social Security numbers provided on voter registration forms through Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security administration databases to make sure the numbers match the names and birth dates provided.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said the problem with Cobb’s and Beers’ bill requests is they address issues for which legislation is already in place.

“Certainly we need to look at the enforcement end of it, but it’s up to the judicial and executive branches to enforce, prosecute and convict,” Oceguera said.

He noted that the Legislature in 2007 adopted a bill to allow the Nevada Tax Commission to levy an undetermined fine on companies that hire illegal workers.

But Cobb said the bill was a “watered-down” version of its original, and he noted it allows fines to be levied only after the U.S. Attorney General’s office has made a final determination that the company hired illegal immigrants. The law is unenforceable as written, he said.

Romero believes all such immigration-related legislation should be handled at the federal level.

“I think the matters will be addressed nationally in the next Congress,” he said.

Congress in 2007 considered the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, but the bill failed.

Since then, Beers said, the immigration issue “has become heartburn rather than being a forefrontal migraine.”

“It’s just moved down into the gut,” he said.

As of July 4, 165 measures had been requested for drafting for Nevada’s 2009 legislative session. The list is being updated on a weekly basis.

The list can often be vague, since there is a single descriptive line for each measure proposed for drafting. But it does give a hint of what lawmakers want to address when they get together seven months from now.

Both Beers’ and Cobb’s requests, for example, are described thusly: “Makes various changes concerning foreign nationals.”

Cobb’s bill also would create penalties for exploiting illegal immigrants. He said people sometimes threaten to turn illegal immigrants over to immigration authorities or the police if they refuse to work for less than the minimum wage.

The bill also would prohibit non-U.S. citizens from receiving the Millennium Scholarship, he said.

A 2007 bill that would have denied the scholarship and loans to illegal immigrants attending state schools and universities failed.

Another 2007 bill that would have made English the official of language of Nevada also was unsuccessful.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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