Pridemore immigration bill protesters 2011

An Arizona-style immigration bill requiring local law enforcement officers to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities, authored by state Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford, was the target of protesters at a May Day rally in Madison this spring. 

With any luck, it won't become as notorious as SB 1070, the Arizona law on which it is modeled, but the immigration bill before the Wisconsin Legislature now has a number: AB 173.

The proposal, heralded late last year by author Don Pridemore, R-Hartford, stalled while other GOP initiatives whipped up the hottest partisan clash in Wisconsin in memory, but as other controversial measures end their journey through the Legislature, it could start moving up in priority.

Unless, perhaps, the Republican leadership considers whether such a law is a good move for a state that's supposedly "open for business."

Assembly Bill 173, formally introduced and assigned to the Homeland Security and State Affairs committee earlier this month, has already drawn as many opponents as sponsors.

The proposed law would require local law enforcement officers to have federal authorities determine if persons arrested on criminal or civil charges are in the United States legally, if officers have "reasonable suspicion" that they are not. People detained on suspicion of illegal presence could be held for up to 48 hours, and would then be turned over to federal immigration authorities if they cannot produce documentation of legal presence. Cities and counties would be barred from enacting laws that prohibit compliance with AB 173, and fined $500 a day if they don't comply.

The dairy business relies heavily on immigrant labor, and the industry association has been on record in support of federal immigration policies that allow for long-term presence of immigrant workers through renewals of temporary permits.

The Council of Churches, which represents 13 Christian denominations, commented in registering its opposition to AB 173 that it: "seeks economic justice through immigration policies that prioritize family reunification, protect workers' rights, and enforce immigration laws with justice and compassion."

Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant workers advocacy group, calls the proposed law discriminatory, unconstitutional and expensive. This fact sheet details its opposition to the bill.

Sponsors of the legislation are Republicans Evan Wynn, 43d-Whitewater; Daniel LeMahieu, 59th-Cascade; Joel Kleefisch, 35th-Oconomowoc; Jim Steineke, 5th-Kaukauna; Andre Jacque, 2nd-Green Bay. Senator Frank Lasee, R-DePere, is co-sponsoring in the Senate.

There's no word this week on when, or if, the bill will get a hearing.

GOP leadership has been lukewarm on the bill. Back in March when Pridemore began circulating the bill in search of sponsors, spokesmen for both Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder and Governor Scott Walker wouldn't comment on it, saying their focus was on the state budget and creating jobs.

The budget's a done deal now.

And although Pridemore told me this spring that his law would boost tourism here by keeping out a "criminal element," its progenitor has done anything but in Arizona. SB 1070 cost that state an estimated $15 million to $150 million in lost tourism in the year since its passage, prompting the business lobby to work to defeat a new slate of immigration laws this spring.

And in Georgia, where legislators followed Arizona's lead, a newly signed state law imposing stiff criminal penalties for using fake documents to get work has scared off migrant workers, jeopardizing crops and forcing state officials to try to fill the gap by putting probationers into the fields. And that law is not even in effect yet.

Meanwhile, the most hotly contested provisions of the Arizona law – requiring police to check immigration papers, requiring noncitizens to carry federal IDs, allowing police to hold indefinitely anyone who can't prove lawful immigration status, and making it a crime for undocumented persons to seek work – are on hold by order of a federal court.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has hired powerhouse attorney Paul Clement, a former solicitor general who is head council for a 26-state challenge to the federal health care law signed last year and the defense of the U.S. House of Representatives in a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

Clement is preparing Arizona's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appellate court ruling that its law usurps an exclusive province of the federal government: immigration law.

All of which is certain to make SB 1070 even more notorious.

Does Wisconsin want to go that route?

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