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Idaho House passes Texas-style immigration bill

by CLARK CORBIN / Idaho Capital Sun
| March 31, 2024 1:00 AM

The Idaho House of Representatives voted 53-15 on Friday to pass a new immigration bill that includes lengthy passages that were copied and pasted word-for-word from a controversial Texas law that is tied up in legal challenges. 

Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, sponsored House Bill 753, which was fast-tracked in the Idaho House of Representatives after it was introduced on Wednesday. 

The bill creates a new crime of illegal entry into the state, which makes it a crime for non-U.S. citizens to enter Idaho directly from a foreign country outside of an official port of entry. The bill also allows local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of individuals and allows for a magistrate judge to order people who violate the bill to return to their country of origin.

There are exceptions in the bill for people who have a legal presence in the U.S. such as through a work visa, people who have been granted asylum and for people who were granted benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program between 2012 and 2021.

Crane described the bill as a law-and-order bill, designed to enhance the powers of local law enforcement officers and magistrate judges to allow them to enforce immigration laws that have previously been the purview of the federal government.

“This is not targeting any demographic; this is targeting people that are here illegally,” Crane said in his floor debate Friday. “If you are here legally you have nothing to worry about.”

Some Idaho legislators worry Texas-style immigration bill could be challenged in court

But several legislators pointed out that Texas Senate Bill 4, which Idaho’s new bill is modeled after, has been blocked from taking effect as legal challenges around the Texas law play out.

“The first point I would make is that Idaho as a state does not have the authority to do this; this is the job of the federal government,” House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said in her floor debate Friday.

Necochea warned legislators that if the Idaho Legislature passes the bill the state will need to expend time and money to defend the inevitable legal challenges that will be brought against the bill.

Crane said any money for defending lawsuits would come from the state’s constitutional defense fund. Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, then asked Crane for an estimate of how much it would cost to defend the bill in court.

“I believe it to be constitutionally sound, and I think we are going to be just fine – so zero,” Crane told Lanting. 

Often, it takes a week or more for a bill to be introduced, scheduled for a full public hearing and then sent back to the floor and taken up for a vote. However, Crane and other Republican legislators worked together to finish that entire process in just over 48 hours.

For several legislators, the apparent rush to advance Crane’s immigration bill in what was supposed to be the final week of the 2024 legislative session raised concerns. 

“I appreciate a lot of what’s gone into this bill, and I agree with a lot of things in the bill,” Rep. Douglas Pickett, R-Oakley, said in his floor debate. “But I am concerned about how the bill has come so quickly, and I think some of what has happened today is evidence of that. The ability to vet these things out in committee fully, to have their time is also very important, but also, and in particular, to involve … our friends in the ag community and get as much ownership and buy-in as possible in any of these measures that we take up.”

During a public hearing the day before on Thursday, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, PODER of Idaho, ACLU of Idaho and American Immigration Lawyers Association all came out against the bill, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. Meanwhile, Kootenai County Sheriff Robert Norris and a representative of Idaho Tough on Crime came out in support of the bill. 

Five Republicans – Pickett and Reps. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot; Clay Handy, R-Burley; Steve Miller, R-Fairfield; and Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome – joined all of the Democrats who were present in voting against the bill. 

House Bill 753 heads next to the Idaho Senate for consideration.