The Associated Press May 18, 2010, 4:16PM ET

Neb. lawmaker plans Arizona-style immigrant bill

The uproar over a new, immigration-related law in Arizona could resound in Nebraska next year.

State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont said he plans to introduce a similar bill in the Nebraska Legislature the next session, which begins in January. Arizona's bill requires police enforcing another law to verify a person's immigration status if there's "reasonable" suspicion the person is in the U.S. illegally.

While supporters say it's a fair way to curb illegal immigration, opponents say it can't be enforced without racial profiling, mainly against Hispanics.

"I don't want to be profiling," said Janssen, who added that crafting such a law so it can be enforced without racial profiling is one of the "hardest hurdles." Janssen spoke to The Associated Press late Monday.

Janssen, who some consider to be the most aggressive anti-illegal-immigration senator in the Legislature, has already drafted a bill he says is almost exactly the same as the Arizona law. But he may change it based on experiences Arizona has with its new law to try to protect it from some of the same legal challenges that law faces, namely those involving possible racial profiling.

Amid the furor over the Arizona law, said Janssen, "Nobody is asking this: What if it works?"

Janssen said the only way he wouldn't introduce a bill next year is if another senator has a better, similar measure.

There are at least ten other states considering similar legislation, with chances of such a law passing slim in some.

The bill stands a better chance at passing in Nebraska's largely conservative Legislature. The state has the only one-house, nonpartisan Legislature in the country, meaning agreement from 24 fellow senators can get a bill passed.

However, the bill would probably have to be advanced by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, which has a higher percentage of Democrats than the Legislature as a whole.

Federal, not state, action is the only way to get real immigration reform, and an Arizona-style law could hurt relations with Hispanics in the state, said Darcy Tromanhauser with the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest

"Do we want alienation or integration?" Tromanhauser said.

There has been an influx of Hispanics into Nebraska since the early 1990's, with many working in the meatpacking industry. They now account for about 8 percent of the state's population -- and from 2000 to 2008, Hispanics were responsible for about 64 percent of the state's population growth.

One moderate conservative in the Legislature who is undecided on whether he would support the bill expressed reservations about it. But he expected it would have a decent chance of passing.

"I don't think there's any question that if you polled people there would strong anti-illegal-immigration sentiment and people will put a lot of pressure on senators to vote for it," said Sen. John Wightman of Lexington, who has many Hispanics in his district.

Wightman said Nebraska doesn't face many of the border-related problems that Arizona does and also worried such a law would inflame relations between Hispanics and whites.

Gov. Dave Heineman said until he had a chance to closely review the Arizona law he couldn't comment on whether he would support such a measure in Nebraska, adding that it "needs to be researched closely because we're not sitting on the border."


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