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Culver backs immigration crackdown

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DES MOINES - Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and legislative leaders said Wednesday they will look at ways to crack down on illegal immigration in the state by targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.

Top Democratic leaders rolled out the idea at a seminar for journalists at the State Capitol four weeks before state lawmakers convene for the 2008 session on Jan. 14.

"Anything we can do to hold anyone accountable related to illegal immigration, I support," Culver told reporters.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said state lawmakers will take a strong, aggressive focus on dealing with illegal immigration because federal authorities have not enforced the laws.

"The federal government has completely failed in its role," McCarthy said.

Democrats are looking at creating criminal and civil penalties at the state level for employers who knowingly hire or contract with illegal immigrants.

McCarthy acknowledges the constraints on what Iowa officials can do, but said they are looking at what other states have done and will have a variety of proposals for lawmakers to consider.

Democrats say some employers have sought out illegal immigrants to work for them as independent contractors rather than putting them on the payrolls as full-fledged employees.

House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, said he hears of abuses of contracting with illegal immigrants especially in the construction industry.

"The bottom line is, if we catch people here in the future, we want them to know they're going to face stiff penalties, including jail time," Murphy said.

Murphy ruled out the idea that lawmakers would consider granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

"We will not be taking up driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in this state, period," Murphy said.

House Minority Whip Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, agreed federal authorities are failing to enforce immigration laws and predicted his GOP colleagues would be on board with imposing penalties on employers at the state level.

"I think House Republicans believe (if) you knowingly break the law, there's consequences that go with that," Paulsen said.

Contact Charlotte Eby at (515) 243-0138 or chareby@aol.com.

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