Sunday, February 12, 2006

Good policy mixed up in a junk bill

The Democrats in the Iowa legislature, in their extreme attempt to look tough on illegal immigration, worked the microphones during a Thursday press conference in support of a bill that takes on illegal immigration, evil corporations, nefarious executives and, oh yeah, human trafficking. SF 2109 is the Democrats broad-brush approach to fixing illegal immigration, or, more correctly, fixing their illegal immigration political problem. As reported by Radio Iowa.

Democrats in the legislature propose big fines and the option of jail time for businesses and executives who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. House Democrat Leader Pat Murphy of Dubuque says corporations that import cheap labor, illegally, drive down all wages. "We think it's time that we get tough on big corporations that bring illegal immigrants to this state," Murphy says. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says Democrats want to create a new "Employer Accountability Bureau" in the Attorney General's office to investigate companies suspected of hiring undocumented workers.

Gronstal says the federal government is doing "little or nothing" to deal with the problem, so Democrats in the legislature want to target the "big corporations" that are "defining" immigration policy by shipping in illegals who work for lower wages than American citizens. "Nobody can criticize a family for seeking a better life for their children," Gronstal says. "This is a criticism of corporations that use immigration as a way to drive down wages in our state."

Gronstal refused to say the legislation targets specific businesses or even specific industries in the state. "I'm not about picking on individual companies," Gronstal says. "The vast majority of players in this state are good businesspeople (who) do a good job." The package Democrats propose also would outlaw "human trafficking" in Iowa. Senate Co-President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, says it involves not just adults who're seeking jobs but kids who're being sexually exploited. Kibbie says the state must "get ahold of" the situation and stop it.

This reads like a script from an Iowa AFL-CIO candidate round up, with the veiled shots at the big guys running big business and the soft sell pandering to illegal immigrants “seeking a better life for their children”. Unfortunately, it really is a muddle of bill. It lumps together issues related to immigration, often a federal policy conundrum, with the creation of state statutes to prosecute human trafficking crimes. In fact, the combination of the two issues is cause for concern among interest groups working to pass one of the other human trafficking bills. From the Quad City Times.

The Democrats’ plan also includes a ban on human trafficking, making it a felony to transport people into the state for the purpose of exploiting them.

Martin (Catholic Latino affairs guy) said human trafficking is a completely separate issue from the hiring of illegal immigrants, so he believes it is unwise to include the two in the same discussion.

Both sides practice election year politics; Senate Republicans with the grandstanding on the death penalty and now the House and Senate Democrats with a sloppy, try-to-look-tough bill on illegal immigration. This is something I’d shrug off, but I just had to check out the websites campaigning against human trafficking and modern slavery -- creepy.

iAbolish put together a state-by-state breakdown of trafficking and human slavery arrests and prosecutions. A few examples.

In February 2000 Michael Charles Smith, a 50-year old high school math teacher, was arrested on charges stemming from the accusation that he smuggled a number of undocumented Mexican boys into the United States in order to have sex with them. Further evidence claimed that Smith was part of a ring of pedophiles. Its members traveled to Acapulco to have sex with the city's street kids; they also trafficked in child pornography and smuggled Mexican teens across the border. Smith kept three such boys in his house, one for over a decade. Smith claimed the whole thing was a misunderstanding, pleaded guilty to a few lesser charges and was sentenced to just over two years in prison.

The Cadena family, from Veracruz, Mexico, smuggled at least 22 young women from Mexico to the United States and then forced them into prostitution. The women — some of them as young as 14 — were lured by promises of good-paying jobs. Instead, they found themselves as sex slaves in trailer park brothels in Florida and South Carolina. They were kept in deplorable conditions and regularly beaten. If a woman got pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion. The brothels' clients paid $20 for sex. For each transaction, $3 was subtracted from the $2000 to $3000 'smuggling fee' that these women ostensibly owed their captors. After a series of raids and arrests, family ringleader Rogerio Cadena pleaded guilty to a number of charges. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

Five people were arrested and tried on charges that they smuggled two Chinese women into the US. Using fake visas and a sham marriage, the smugglers allegedly conspired to make the women sex slaves for Little Rock businessman David Jewell Jones. Unfortunately, one of the women, worried that she would be deported if Jones was acquitted, embellished her testimony on the stand and the trial ended with a hung jury. The accused, however, have been re-indicted on marriage fraud charges.

Oh, it happens in Iowa too.

The point is, Democrats should know better than to attach an election year gimmick to a small, but important (at least to a few people), issue that if it passes will provide prosecutors with tools to go after human traffickers in state courts. None of this plea-bargaining practiced evil down to two years junk, thank you.

I guess they still have to negotiate the politics on this issue. Is Gronstal going to be callous and push for a 'bad executives' amendment on a viable human trafficking bill (SF2027)? If that happens, will the Senate GOP leaders just shelve the bill for another year? Perhaps this is avoidable if some clean version of a human trafficking bill moves out of the House and to the Senate before there’s more Gronstal grandstanding on the issue.

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