The Missouri Senate almost got it right. In my opinion, the Senate had a golden opportunity to make substantial progress on the issue of illegal immigration. They came close but failed to take that final step. We'll see what happens in the days and weeks ahead.
The Senate this week advanced state enforcement of federal immigration laws, giving new powers to the state Highway Patrol and adopting penalties for contractors who hire undocumented workers. But it's the area of the contractors where the Senate missed a golden opportunity.
Under the Senate plan, Highway Patrol officers will receive additional training on immigration laws and will now have access to a federal database on immigrant visas. Actually it makes you wonder why law enforcement agencies don't already have that access. But we'll hold that discussion for another day.
It's the area of contractors where I find fault.
Democratic Senate Tim Green of St. Louis offered an amendment that would bar contractors who employ undocumented workers from participating in public works projects. Those contractors who "knowingly" employ illegal immigrants would be banned from government projects for three years.
But Green - to his great credit - had proposed to extend the ban on government projects to contractors who "negligently" hired undocumented workers. Unfortunately, the Republican majority killed that idea. Green said that without the "negligent" language, employers could easily get around the law. He's right and we all know it. The GOP said the provision would place an undue burden on large contractors and they felt the "negligent" provision would force employers to become police.
Green was right. Any contractor caught hiring illegal immigrants will say they did not do so "knowingly" and they will suffer no consequences. You can bet the farm that's exactly what will happen. But if Green had his way, those contractors who turn their heads the other way and are "negligent" in their hiring, would pay the same price. His amendment should have been approved.
There's still time however. Unless the Green amendment is adopted, this Senate bill will have little, if any, impact. If the goal is to assure that all residents of this country are here legally, then penalizing employers who hire the illegals is an important first step.
The Missouri Senate - especially the Republican majority - has a golden opportunity to stem the tide of illegal immigrants who come here and work illegally. Thus far they have failed. But they still have a chance and we hope they get it right next time.