Freshman Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Claremont, wasted no time in making good on one of his top campaign promises.
In his first act after being sworn in to office this week, the Tea Party-backed lawmaker introduced legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration in California with provisions similar to Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
Though Donnelly promised to introduce the bill, it won’t likely go much further.
“He has about as much chance of passing that bill as he does at winning the Academy Award for best actor. It is a controversial Republican bill in a Democratic legislature,” said political scientist Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College.
Still, Donnelly isn’t giving up.
“That is the exact same response all the professionals gave me when I said I was going to run for office – they said it wasn’t going to happen. And guess what? I’m here,” he said. “The key to it all is you go to the people, because the people are the ones upset about this, and you get them to lobby their legislators.”
The measure would make it a misdemeanor crime under state law to be in the state illegally. It requires local law enforcement officials to inquire about immigration status during the course of normal business, such as a traffic stop, and to check the papers of anyone they have probable cause to believe is in the country illegally.
It would also make it a violation of state law for an employer to knowingly hire an undocumented person, and require employers to verify employment eligibility through the federal government’s E-Verify system.
Donnelly, who helped found the largest chapter of Minutemen in the state, says the legislation would curb illegal immigration and cut state spending on undocumented immigrants.
“The federal government has abdicated their duty. My job is to force the issue,” he said. “The federal government has a duty to secure our borders and when there is a war going on along your border, and 31,000 people have died, I think that falls under the federal government’s duty.”
A ballot measure with similar provisions began circulating for signatures last week. If it gets the required 433,971 signatures by April 21, Californians could decide the issue directly.
A Field Poll earlier this year found that 49 percent of respondents support Arizona’s immigration law, while 45 percent oppose it.
At the same time, a University of Southern California poll last month found that three-quarters of California voters support creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here illegally as children and meet certain criteria, such as education or military service.
Donnelly’s bill might win the Assemblyman points among his constituents, but it could damage the Republican name among Latinos in California – considered increasingly important to winning elections in the state, Pitney said.
“Republicans have to do better with Latino voters and a bill like this doesn’t help,” Pitney said.
Donnelly said he doesn’t care about the potential impact on his own political fate.
“I plan to use every bit of my political capital on behalf of the people, because I don’t care what happens to me. I’m not even supposed to be here,” he said.