Lebanon, Mo. — The Missouri Senate Interim Committee on Illegal Immigration conducted its second meeting Wednesday afternoon to examine varying aspects of illegal immigration and its effects on the Show-Me State.
The goal of the Interim Committee is to understand and identify ways to discourage illegal immigration and capture revenues the state is missing from the underground economy. Committee members also plan to look into the abuses of out-of-state companies bringing illegal immigrants into Missouri to work without paying state taxes or obeying Missouri’s labor laws.
The committee heard from many witnesses who have seen these issues first hand, people who work to solve them or have to compete against them.
St. Charles County executive, Steve Ehlmann, testified about how he has seen this not only in his city but in the surrounding cities as well. He spoke about how this issue is becoming greater in all of Missouri, and that though he cannot speak for other counties, he “volunteers his county for this battle”.
Sen. Justin Brown, R-Crawford County, was very vocal about his desire to help the cause.
“We want to actually do something here and make a difference, not just pass litigation to say we did,” Brown said. “Though the last thing I want to do as chairman of this committee is make it more cumbersome for small businesses who are following the law to make a living in this state.”
Mark Dalton, Assistant Political Director for the Missouri Carpenters Union, spoke on how he has seen this issue firsthand. As far as he knows there has been very little done to combat it.
“These workers are being exploited, I am gonna be on the side of the workers even if they are not in my union,” Dalton said of illegal immigrant labor exploitation.
Justin McCarty, a field representative at Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 178 agreed with Dalton in his testimony, placing the blame on businesses breaking laws to use immigrant work for cheap.
“These workers are here to make a living, make a future, who can blame them?” McCarty said.
Department of Labor Director Anna Hui was also one of the witnesses who testified to the committee, hoping to end some confusion and offer a clearer perspective on who or what entity holds authority when it comes to prosecuting these companies. Though her testimony was helpful to understand the process to prosecute a business and who has authority depending on what department the issue falls under, it left the committee with more questions.
“Do any states regulate this well? It seems like it is a bunch of government organizations pointing fingers as to who can or should fix it,” Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, said.
Senator Brown agreed with Cierpot’s sentiment, placing blame on the federal government for its failure to secure the borders.
“If the federal government was doing their job, we would not be sitting here today. Every state is now a border state, not just Texas, or New Mexico or Arizona, all because of this issue,” Brown said. “I’m not one to tuck tail and run on this problem. the buck stops here with us.”
The committee has been open to outside-the-box solutions to stopping this issue, solutions like E-Verify, which was debated among the committee and witnesses at the last meeting. E-Verify is a federal web-based system used by other states that allow enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
This week the main idea that some members of the committee seemed to ponder was giving more authority to local governments that face the issue every day.
“I do like the idea of more local control because they do see it more than others,” Brown said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to stop these bad companies that are not playing by the rules because it creates an unfair advantage … I refuse to believe we can’t do something, we can do something, this is why we are here together, to serve the business community and its constituents.”
The committee is made up of six senators. Led by Chairman Justin Brown, the other members include Vice Chairman Sen. Mike Cierpiot (R-Jackson County), Sen. Doug Beck (D-St. Louis County), Sen. Mike Bernskoetter (R-Cole County), Sen. Karla Eslinger (R-West Plains), and Sen. Barbara Washington (D-Jackson County).
The formation of the committee comes after Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Greene County, added $100,000 to the Department of Labor’s budget earlier this year to begin addressing the issue of illegal immigration in Missouri.
As of now, there is no specific date or time for the next meeting, the committee will announce this information in the coming weeks.
Featured Image: From left, Senators Doug Beck, Barbara Washington, Justin Brown, Mike Cierpot and Karla Eslinger listen to citizen testimony at a meeting of the Senate’s Interim Committee on Illegal Immigration in Lebanon, Mo. on July 20. (Scott Faughn/The Missouri Times)