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Immigration unlikely to be hot state topic

Immigration unlikely to be hot state topic

Apr 29, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The immigration issue hasn't created much of a stir in Wyoming and probably won't, even if the Supreme Court upholds all or part of Arizona's immigration law.

Recent efforts to tighten laws regarding immigrants in Wyoming have been unsuccessful. Residents of the "Equality State" cherish their privacy and tend to view any suggestion of increasing police power with suspicion.

Living in the least populated state, Wyomingites also tend to rely first on themselves and their neighbors -- not necessarily the police -- for help and protection. Levels of private gun ownership are among the highest in the country.

Wyoming also hasn't seen the same levels of recent immigration as some other states, particularly those along the Mexican border, have experienced in recent years.

The 2010 census reported that 8.9 percent of Wyoming's 568,000 residents were Hispanic, compared to 16.3 percent nationwide. And the percentage of Wyoming residents born outside the country was 3.1 percent, far below the national average of 12.7 percent.

State Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne, has repeatedly and unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would tighten Wyoming's laws along the lines of the Arizona law.

Illoway, who's not running for re-election this year, last brought the immigration issue up in the 2011 Wyoming Legislature. His bill, which would have authorized police to arrest people without a warrant if they committed offenses that made them eligible for deportation, failed to make it out of committee.

Representatives of associations representing building contractors and restaurant and lodging interests spoke against Illoway's bill in 2011, saying the state didn't need to enact a system that duplicates federal law.

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds all or part of the Arizona law, Illoway said that he doesn't expect there will be much interest among Wyoming lawmakers to visit the issue again.

"It really is a federal problem, and they've allowed it to become a state problem," Illoway said. "And now I think the states really are going to force the hand of the federal government. If the Supreme Court comes out and says, 'Hey, parts of it are constitutional,' then I think that's great for those border states. They are having some problems."

Illoway emphasized that he didn't regard his efforts to tighten Wyoming's immigration laws to be either "anti-immigrant," or "anti-Hispanic."

"I'm not against immigration," Illoway said.

"This country was built on immigration. ... Their children, if they're born here, they become American citizens. I just think that the whole immigration system needs to be overhauled and is really a mess."

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