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O'Fallon bill targets hiring of illegal immigrants

O'Fallon bill targets hiring of illegal immigrants

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Two O'Fallon City Council members are preparing legislation that would declare O'Fallon a "rule of law" city and punish businesses that employ illegal immigrants.

Councilman Jim Pepper, Ward 2, said he and Councilman Bob Howell, Ward 4, are sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for businesses to recruit, hire or continue to employ workers who cannot produce documentation of their legal right to work in the United States.

"This levels the playing field for all workers," Pepper said. "We are going to support the legal working person in the U.S., and the illegals need not apply."

Any company applying for a business license would have to sign an affidavit affirming they would not knowingly hire or utilize the services of unlawful workers. Businesses would be required to use electronic verification to determine whether workers were United States citizens or possessed work permits.

"They don't have to be citizens," Pepper said. "We just want them to be legal so they pay taxes like you and I. If they want to come here and work, and they have the proper papers, that is fantastic. But do it legally."

Action would be taken against a business only if someone filed a complaint, Pepper said. Businesses that fail to comply could face fines or license suspensions, he said.

Pepper also is preparing a resolution declaring O'Fallon to be a "rule of law" city in regard to upholding immigration laws.

"This means we will never be a sanctuary city like San Francisco that refuses to cooperate with federal authorities in apprehending illegal aliens," Pepper said.

More than 30 municipalities in the United States have designated themselves as 'sanctuary cities," beginning with Los Angeles in 1979. Sanctuary cities do not allow police or city employees to ask people about their immigration status, and do not allow city funds to be used to enforce federal immigration laws.

Costa Mesa, Calif., declared itself a "rule of law city" in 2010 in response to the sanctuary city movement.

O'Fallon's city attorney is examining proposed language for the immigration bill and resolution, Pepper said. They could be introduced for discussion during an upcoming work session, he said.

Pepper said he and Howell have been working on the idea for a year. Howell could not be reached for comment by Journal deadline Friday.

Pepper said the proposed worker verification bill is almost identical to a Valley Park immigration law upheld in U.S. Circuit Court.

In 2006, the Valley Park Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance prohibiting businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, on penalty of license revocation. After three years of legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009 affirmed the Valley Park law.

Alonzo Rivas, MALDEF's Midwest regional counsel, said his organization would oppose any state or local law requiring employers to verify workers' immigration status.

Rivas said Springfield, Mo., is preparing to put a similar law to a public referendum.

"These cities are trying to regulate immigration, and in our opinion that is only within the power of the federal government," Rivas said. "States and municipalities do not have the knowledge or expertise to handle immigration."

The fact that a court upheld the Valley Park law does not mean another city's law would pass constitutional muster, Rivas said.

Another 2006 Valley Park law prohibiting landlords from renting to illegal immigrants did not survive court challenges. Pepper said he would like to expand the proposed O'Fallon law to require landlords to verify immigration status before renting homes and apartments.

That idea does not sit well with Mark Stallmann, chief executive officer of the St. Charles County Association of Realtors. Stallmann said it would be a "nightmare" for landlords to document whether tenants have work permits or legal citizenship, and a nightmare for any city to enforce such a law.

"That would be a major problem, putting government's job of controlling immigration on the back of landlords," Stallmann said. "Our organization would have major concerns about this."

Pepper said he was investigating whether the proposed law might be applicable to landlords that have business licenses. Stallmann said most landlords do not have business licenses unless they operate out of a business office instead of their home.

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