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Time to let immigration bill die

April 28, 2011

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The most favorable thing that can be said about state Sen. Mike Delph's hodge-podge immigration bill is that the legislature may run out of time before it can vote it up or down.

With Friday's deadline for the session approaching, Senate Bill 590 is in conference committee undergoing still more of its endless tinkering; meanwhile, public hearings ground on Tuesday and Wednesday, with another round set for today.

Efforts to appease its legion of critics have only further complicated the sprawling piece of legislation, without resolving its legal and constitutional issues or allaying fears it would brand Indiana as a hostile spot on the international map.

Given the shortness of the hour and the plethora of unanswered questions, setting the bill aside for interim study is the obvious choice.

Whether any state can empower itself to take on the federal responsibility of policing immigration remains the fundamental question. Federal court rulings against Arizona's immigration law, which Delph has used as his model, should be warrant enough to wait and see in Indiana.

Two aspects of border crossing that have been suggested for study would be worthy of the state's involvement. One is the dollar cost -- and benefit -- traceable to the undocumented population and labor force. The other is the extent of international human trafficking -- including children forced into prostitution -- experienced here.

As to the heart of the bill -- assigning state and local authorities to pursue and punish suspected illegal immigrants and their suspected employers -- study certainly is needed before any final vote is taken; but it is unlikely to remove the objections that have been raised.

From Attorney General Gregory Zoeller and other legal experts to the business community, religious leaders and Latino advocacy groups, warnings have been sounded that the proposal is unenforceable, ripe for litigation, racially insensitive and bad economics. Top corporations have joined universities in expressing worry about attracting foreign talent, and some organizations have threatened to withdraw their conventions from Indianapolis if SB 590 becomes law.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem; impatience with the federal response is understandable. This legislation as it stands -- or lurches along, with its various patches -- would only make the problem worse for Indiana. It is riding on emotion in these hectic closing days of the session, and its passage would make for tempting politics and bad law. Cool heads will let the clock run out.

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