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Immigration Bills Shot Down In Committee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A legislative committee on Tuesday rejected twin bills by a Republican lawmaker who sought to crack down on illegal immigration in California, in part by requiring citizenship verification for anyone applying for a job or public benefits.

The legislation by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a tea party member from San Bernardino County, faced long odds in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

His main bill, AB26, would have allowed residents to sue so-called "sanctuary cities," which do not cooperate with federal immigration officials, and required employers to verify applicants' citizenship. It was rejected on a party-line, 7-3 vote by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

It dealt the same fate to a shorter bill, AB1018, which would have required the citizenship check for anyone applying for public benefits.

Assemblyman Brian Jones, who co-authored AB26, said it was not an anti-immigrant bill but rather would have forced local government to comply with federal law.

"You either support the constitution, or you usurp the constitution," said Jones, R-Santee.

But committee chairman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, called the bill unconstitutional and said it was "needlessly divisive." He agreed with business representatives who said it would cost the state jobs and with law enforcement officials who said it would make Californians less safe by diverting resources otherwise used to fight more serious crimes.

Donnelly said his legislation would adopt parts of an Arizona law passed last year and seen as the toughest measure adopted by any state against illegal immigration.

Neither of his bills, however, contained language similar to the most high-profile provision of the Arizona law, which directed law enforcement officers to check the citizenship status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. That stipulation and much of the rest of the law are on hold as it is being contested in federal court.

Some provisions in AB26 would have punished sex traffickers with life in prison and charged illegal immigrants with a felony if caught trespassing on public or private land while in possession of drugs. The bill also discouraged people from picking up day laborers who are in the United States illegally.

Scores of supporters filled the committee room Tuesday, some from the Minuteman Project, which opposes illegal immigration, and at least a dozen wearing tea party shirts. Dozens of others turned out in opposition.

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-Lodi, said she agreed with parts of AB26 but could not vote for all of it. She suggested Donnelly break up the bill into more manageable parts.

"I worry about overselling this bill as the solution to the entire problem," she said.

After the hearing, Donnelly, a state Minuteman founder, suggested he would take Huber's advice.

"I found that very encouraging," he told The Associated Press. "There's room to build support on some of those provisions. Just because we lost in one committee, doesn't mean the problem goes away."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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