Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/22/2004 03:30 PM L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 379-OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP ASSISTANCE                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR ANDERSON announced  that the first order  of business would                                                               
be  HOUSE  BILL  NO.  379,  "An Act  establishing  an  office  of                                                               
citizenship assistance  in the Department of  Labor and Workforce                                                               
Development."                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 0091                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   BRUCE  WEYHRAUCH,   Alaska  State   Legislature,                                                               
sponsor,  explained that  HB  379 would  establish  an office  of                                                               
citizenship  assistance in  the Department  of Labor  & Workforce                                                               
Development.  He  noted that this bill was  introduced in another                                                               
session by  then-Senator Pete  Kelly from  Fairbanks.   There are                                                               
over 3,000 legal aliens in  Juneau, many from the Philippines and                                                               
Tonga, who  have a great  impact on the economy.   Representative                                                               
Weyhrauch  said  these immigrants  work  hard  and come  to  this                                                               
country  to fulfill  the American  dream of  working in  freedom,                                                               
without government intervention, to put food on the table.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH related  that as he got to  know many of                                                               
his immigrant constituents, he was  profoundly impressed by their                                                               
desire to work.   He noted the unfortunate  burdens of government                                                               
paperwork  and bureaucracy,  however,  and how  it is  especially                                                               
difficult  for people  who  were oppressed  in  their country  of                                                               
origin to  turn to  government here, since  they fear  getting in                                                               
trouble, tend not  to be adversarial, or are  unfamiliar with the                                                               
process.   By establishing an  office of  citizenship assistance,                                                               
he said, he hopes to expand the productivity of legal aliens.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH  asked  the committee  to  address  the                                                               
policy issues, saying it is his  intent to fund a position within                                                               
the  Department   of  Labor  &  Workforce   Development  so  that                                                               
assistance  and   direction  in  job-related  matters   would  be                                                               
available  to legal  aliens.   This position  would also  provide                                                               
policy assistance  and direction to  the commissioner, or  his or                                                               
her designee,  to point  out policy  impediments for  workers and                                                               
make suggestions  to streamline  the system.   He  predicted this                                                               
would increase  employment and  business opportunities  for legal                                                               
aliens.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 0398                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO  asked how this bill  affects illegal aliens                                                               
who  are   currently  working  here,  noting   that  the  sponsor                                                               
statement   referred   to   naturalized  citizens   and   citizen                                                               
candidates.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH   surmised  that  until  an   alien  is                                                               
declared illegal,  he/she is legal.   This proposed  office would                                                               
not  aid  anyone  to  skirt  the system;  it  would  serve  those                                                               
requesting help.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO  expanded his question, saying  that it came                                                               
from  knowing that  many  aliens come  to Juneau  by  way of  the                                                               
cruise ships, aliens who aren't  interested in becoming citizens.                                                               
He  wondered  what  would  happen   if  one  of  them  asked  for                                                               
assistance in getting a job at this proposed office.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH  explained that  the office  is intended                                                               
to help people who have some  legal status within the system.  It                                                               
is  not an  office of  advocacy  to get  individuals their  legal                                                               
status.   It would  exist to assist  with employment  and filling                                                               
out forms, and to make referrals to other agencies.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 0562                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN remarked that the  only thing wrong with this                                                               
bill  is that  he didn't  think of  it.   He strongly  favors the                                                               
concept of  helping legal aliens,  he said, and pointed  out that                                                               
most Alaskans  or their  families were  aliens at  one time.   He                                                               
stated  his  opposition  to  illegal  immigration,  but  said  he                                                               
supports  helping to  create productive  citizens  of the  United                                                               
States.   He  asked  if Representative  Weyhrauch had  considered                                                               
faith-based help for legal aliens.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH  replied no,  but he'd thought  the idea                                                               
could be presented to the  lieutenant governor's office, which is                                                               
championing that  initiative.  He added  that he sees this  as an                                                               
executive  branch  policy  area  "coming  down,"  rather  than  a                                                               
legislative policy "going up."                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG  asked if the  State of Alaska  should be                                                               
spending money to provide assistance to nonresidents.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH said  he  thought it  depended on  what                                                               
stage the  person was at  in the  process of becoming  a resident                                                               
and whether the person was trying  to be a wage-earning member in                                                               
the state's workforce.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 0664                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  ROKEBERG remarked  that  the  legislature in  the                                                               
past  spent considerable  time  ensuring  that Alaskans  received                                                               
employment  opportunities.    He  asked  if  the  bill  could  be                                                               
modified  to  say  services  would  only  be  provided  to  legal                                                               
resident aliens of Alaska.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH replied that he  thought it only took 30                                                               
days to become  a legal resident of the state.   He surmised that                                                               
this change to  the bill could be made, but  said he didn't think                                                               
it  would have  much  impact  due to  the  short  amount of  time                                                               
involved in becoming a resident.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD  remarked that  he thought  HB 379  was a                                                               
fine idea  and that he appreciated  the reference in the  bill to                                                               
labor unions.  He read from the bill, which stated in part:                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
                    1)  provide employment information and                                                                      
     referrals  to  services  for  legal  aliens,  including                                                                    
     employment  services, such  as job  placement services,                                                                    
     and information about  how labor unions, administrative                                                                    
     agencies,     and     court      actions     may     be                                                                    
     used   to  deal   with  claims   or   charges  of   job                                                                    
     discrimination,  illegal   termination  of  employment,                                                                    
     sexual harassment, and unsafe working conditions                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  CRAWFORD pointed  out that  this could  mean only                                                               
going  to the  union after  a problem  has occurred,  when people                                                               
should also be directed to unions for employment.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH  agreed and  added that when  English is                                                               
someone's second  language or there  is no cultural  knowledge of                                                               
unions,  he  hopes  word  of  mouth will  direct  people  to  the                                                               
proposed  office,   which  will  list   employment  opportunities                                                               
including unions,  job service offices,  and want ads.   He added                                                               
that  often  workers  require  an  interpreter  to  navigate  the                                                               
system, and  they could  likely get  this help  in the  office of                                                               
citizenship assistance  if the commissioner crafted  the position                                                               
description with this provision.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 0939                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  CRAWFORD   recounted  his  own   experience  with                                                               
becoming an ironworker, "a real step up in my life."                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH  shared  his experience  of  joining  a                                                               
union but never being hired.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  DAHLSTROM  asked  if   the  commissioner  of  the                                                               
Department of  Labor & Workforce Development  would determine the                                                               
[pay] range and step for this position.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH  replied that this hadn't  been decided,                                                               
and that the range and step were not defined in the bill.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR ANDERSON noted that the  fiscal note, page 2, requested the                                                               
position as an Employment Security Analyst II, Range 17.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WEYHRAUCH  replied,  "That was  the  department's                                                               
analysis.  I kept it undefined in the bill."                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 1034                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG asked what  happens to legal aliens who                                                               
are  discharged from  employment.   Do they  automatically become                                                               
illegal, he asked.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH replied that  it depends on their status                                                               
with [the  Immigration and  Naturalization Service  (INS)], often                                                               
determined on a case-by-case basis.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   GUTTENBERG   mentioned   giving   these   people                                                               
opportunities,  saying they  want to  be "mainstreamed,"  to have                                                               
jobs, and to  participate in the community and  be a constructive                                                               
part of  society.  He expressed  the desire to give  them a place                                                               
and opportunity  to feel comfortable dealing  with the government                                                               
and knowing that this place exists to redress [problems].                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked if  legal aliens could be residents                                                               
of Alaska.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH said he thought so.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  ROKEBERG asked  if permanent  fund dividends  are                                                               
paid to resident legal aliens of Alaska.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
[There was no definitive answer.]                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Number 1140                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
RAFAEL   CASTANOS,  Advisor,   Filipino   Community  of   Alaska,                                                               
testified in  support of HB 379.   He said he  had discussed this                                                               
bill  with  then-Senator Kelly  in  2001;  unfortunately, it  got                                                               
"bogged  down" because  of funding.   Mr.  Castanos spoke  of the                                                               
immigration issues facing the Filipino  community, since there is                                                               
no immigration  office in Juneau,  even though it's  the capital.                                                               
For  example,  he'd  been  approached   by  immigrants  when  the                                                               
government had  directed that they be  fingerprinted in Ketchikan                                                               
or Anchorage.   New immigrants earn  $7 or $8 an  hour and cannot                                                               
afford to travel to Ketchikan  or Anchorage.  Although he'd tried                                                               
to  advocate for  them, some  flew to  Ketchikan or  Anchorage to                                                               
comply  with the  requirement.   However, after  two months  they                                                               
again received  letters from immigration  saying, "We  cannot see                                                               
your fingerprints."   He pointed  out that the travel  money paid                                                               
out to comply was nonrefundable.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR.  CASTANOS  said Filipinos  are  shy  by nature  and  wouldn't                                                               
contact  their legislators  about  these  problems.   Immigration                                                               
forms are complicated; if an  immigrant approaches an immigration                                                               
official to get assistance in filling  out a form to petition for                                                               
entry  of a  relative into  this country,  he said,  the official                                                               
will  not   help  but  directs   the  immigrant  to   contact  an                                                               
immigration lawyer, which costs a prohibitive $5,000 to $6,000.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR.  CASTANOS reported  that  he'd done  research  looking for  a                                                               
comparable organization  but, surprisingly, found none.   He sees                                                               
Alaska  serving as  a model  for a  citizenship-assistance office                                                               
that would  help immigrants navigate  the legal system  and solve                                                               
problems on  their way to becoming  citizens.  He noted  that the                                                               
idea  for the  original  bill was  supported  by Catholic  Social                                                               
Services of  Anchorage, which advocates  for illegal aliens.   He                                                               
explained  that  he  wanted  the  bill to  focus  on  the  larger                                                               
immigrant  population of  legal  aliens.   He  felt the  Filipino                                                               
community  would  be doing  the  state  a  favor by  helping  the                                                               
government solve immigration problems.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 1437                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHRISTINA  SUMINGUIT  testified that  she  supported  HB 379  and                                                               
agreed with the testimony of Mr. Castanos.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1477                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CONSESA CABRIGAS testified in support  of HB 379 and related that                                                               
she  is  a  recent  immigrant,  having  arrived  in  Juneau  last                                                               
December, and is very happy to be here.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1515                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ANDREE  McLEOD,  Anchorage,  testified   against  HB  379.    She                                                               
explained that  part of  the American  dream is  interfacing with                                                               
government, and  it is problematic.   There are  already agencies                                                               
in existence  that deal with  problems, such as the  Human Rights                                                               
Commission,  the INS,  and  the  Office of  the  Ombudsman.   She                                                               
opined that  the policy  embodied in  HB 379  was discriminatory,                                                               
based  on  national   origin.    She  applauded   the  intent  of                                                               
recognizing the  rich history of  immigration in Alaska,  but did                                                               
not feel that this should be done at public expense.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. McLEOD  further stated that  it is the responsibility  of the                                                               
sponsor to bridge the transition  for individual immigrants.  She                                                               
said immigrants must not and should  not be treated as victims of                                                               
circumstance.   She  remarked, "They've  already  shown a  strong                                                               
sense of  responsibility by taking  the steps necessary  to leave                                                               
their homeland.   And it's  that responsibility that needs  to be                                                               
encouraged, instead of enabling a  system allowing people to make                                                               
excuses."   Ms. McLeod suggested  that this is a  federal problem                                                               
and  that  scarce state  resources  shouldn't  be spent  on  this                                                               
issue.   She concluded by  sharing that her family  immigrated to                                                               
this country,  had a  sponsor who  was an  uncle, and  never felt                                                               
like victims.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1655                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  ANDERSON, upon  determining  that no  one  else wished  to                                                               
testify, closed public testimony.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Number 1620                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN moved to report  HB 379 out of committee with                                                               
individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG objected.  He  said if the state can find                                                               
$112,000 for  employment opportunities, it might  be better spent                                                               
in  rural   Alaska,  where   there  are   hard-core  unemployment                                                               
problems.  He commented that there  was merit to the bill, but he                                                               
was unsure whether the state could afford it.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG removed his objection.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR ANDERSON expressed support and  noted his plan to cosponsor                                                               
HB  379, since  he knows  of immigrant  constituents in  his East                                                               
Anchorage district.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1665                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  ANDERSON,  hearing  no  other  objection,  announced  that                                                               
HB 379 was  reported from the  House Labor and  Commerce Standing                                                               
Committee.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                

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