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Dave Roepke, Published July 11 2010

North Dakota, Minnesota to debate law like Arizona’s

Lawmakers in Minnesota and North Dakota expect laws styled after Arizona’s controversial immigration law to be introduced in both states’ legislative sessions next year.

“It’s probably a good discussion to have,” said Rep. Al Carlson, the Republican from Fargo who is majority leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives. “States are going to look at it, and obviously we will, too.”

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he expects the same on his side of the Red River, where GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer has called the Arizona law a “wonderful first step” and a where bill with a few similar provisions to the controversial Arizona statute was introduced but not passed in May.

“We’ll undoubtedly be dealing with some proposals,” Lanning said. “I think it will be an issue.”

They aren’t alone. Officials in 20 states have indicated a willingness to take up the debate over a state immigration law like Arizona’s, according to a count kept by Americans for Legal Immigration, a North Carolina-based group that advocates for stricter immigration law.

Five states have already seen similar bills taken up by legislatures, including the bill by Minnesota Rep. Steve Drazkowski, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Even many opponents of state immigration laws are sure they’re going to make it onto next year’s legislative agendas.

“It’s pretty much a slam dunk that there will be a bill of some kind,” said Rep. Steve Zaiser, D-Fargo, a member of the interim judiciary committee.

The first-of-its-kind state law in Arizona, which isn’t effective until July 29 and is being challenged by the U.S. government in a lawsuit, has many elements. It requires law enforcement officials to check the residency status of people they stop or arrest if the law enforcement officials have reason to believe they may be in the country illegally. The law also makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime, among other regulations.

The Arizona law has been divisive. Proponents say state immigration laws are needed because of lax federal enforcement. Critics say it is a national issue and that an increased focus on detaining illegal immigrants plays on racial bias.

Legislators from Minnesota and North Dakota do not convene until next year, and none of the lawmakers contacted by The Forum knew of specific proposals already drafted.

Rep. Chris Griffin, R-Larimore, chairs the interim judiciary committee in North Dakota. He hadn’t heard of any discussion of such a bill but wouldn’t be surprised if someone is working on it.

“Even in terms of water cooler talk, I haven’t heard anyone even tangentially mention it,” said Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, who is vice chairman of the interim judiciary panel.

Al Carlson said he’s heard it specifically discussed, but he doesn’t remember who was talking about it.

“I would guess somebody will copy that law and give it a run and see what happens,” he said.

A phone message left for Drazkowski, the sponsor of the Minnesota proposal, was not returned last week.

Without specific bills, it’s impossible to know how such proposals would fare. Zaiser said he figures an Arizona-style law would have a shot of passage in North Dakota because of the conservative makeup of the Legislature.

“I think it’ll be emotional, and it could be contentious,” Zaiser said.

The head of Centro Cultural, a Moorhead-based Latino advocacy group, said he’d strongly oppose a law like Arizona’s.

“It’s attempting to legitimize racial profiling,” said Raul Fernandez.

Legislators in both states agreed neither Minnesota nor North Dakota has illegal immigration concerns comparable to Arizona or other southern border states.

“People have not contacted me about particular problems they have encountered,” Lanning said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535.