The legislation, proposed by Rep. Vicki Schneider, R-O'Fallon, would put the onus on Missouri businesses to use the E-Verify system, operated by the Department of Homeland Security, or risk losing their business license altogether.
At a hearing of the House Immigration Committee on Wednesday night, the bill's witnesses faced stiff questioning from House Democrats, including a St. Louis representative who questioned the economic impact of bills that could dry up employment opportunities for illegal immigrants.
"I'm looking at my city with the for-rent signs and the for-sale signs, and I really would like people to live in those areas," said Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County. "I don't care if they're legal or not; I just want them to pay their bills."
Kris Kobach, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, supports the bill and said that it is mirrored after a bill that went into law in Arizona. He characterized that bill's immediate effect as "astonishing."
"No one has been prosecuted under the law, not one single enforcement action was taken, but as soon as the law went on the books, on January 1st, there was a mass exodus of illegal aliens from Arizona," Kobach said.
Other stated goals of Schneider's bill, Kobach said, are restricting public benefits for illegal immigrants and addressing "sanctuary cities," or cities that he believes follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to immigration.
Kobach included in his testimony a characterization of Kansas City as a "sanctuary city," which set off a disagreement with another member on the committee, Timothy Flook, D-Liberty. Flook said the primary concern of law enforcement should be to investigate crimes, not checking legal statuses.
Kobach said he estimated Missouri's illegal immigrant population at 65,000 and the cost of social services provided to them at $116 million, with $88 million supporting K-12 students.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.