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Governors say state-level immigration reforms could cause friction

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LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A group of Democratic governors vented their frustration about a lack of federal action on immigration reform and said it could cause friction between states that are pursuing their own prohibitions.

"We need a comprehensive federal policy. We can't solve it a state at a time, and that's what it's been left to," Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at the Clinton School of Public Service in downtown Little Rock.

Sebelius, president of the Democratic Governors Association, spoke at the school with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. The four governors also planned a round of private meetings on health-care policy Thursday afternoon.

After an hour-long panel discussion with students from the school, the governors told reporters that they've been left to come up with their own plans to combat immigration after the failure of President Bush's immigration reform proposals earlier this year in Congress.

"Maybe they'll get to it after the presidential election, but until then the states are going to have to do their own thing," said Napolitano, who signed legislation earlier this year that allows Arizona to revoke the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Bredesen said the lack of federal legislation has left states grappling with enforcement questions.

"We have all sorts of famlies where the parents are illegal aliens and the students are U.S. citizens," Bredesen said. "Until the federal government decides, for example, what we're going to do with those families, we're powerless to begin to address these issues. ... I can no more deport someone as governor than I can check your 1040. These are federal laws, and it's up to them to help us in this process."

Beebe this week said he had asked Arkansas State Police to pursue an agreement with the federal government that would allow troopers to enforce immigration law, though he expressed concerns about the idea during the gubernatorial campaign last year. Beebe said he didn't know about a 2005 law that authorized state police to pursue the agreement, even though Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson cited the law as a means to combat illegal immigration.

Beebe repeated his assertion that the federal government would have to come up with a plan on how it would handle any immigrants arrested.

"If in the normal course of their duties, our law enforcement officials run across somebody who's violating immigration laws, we want to be able to hand that off to the federal government and know they're going to do something about it," Beebe said. "Otherwise, it's meaningless if they just say just turn them loose."

During the meeting with the students, the governors also called for the passage of a spending increase for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is set to expire Sept. 30. Democrats are pushing for a $35 billion spending increase for SCHIP, and President Bush has threatened to veto it.

"What the governors want is, we want the money and we want the flexibility, and we want the ability to manage this with the goal to provide more children health care," Napolitano said.


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