Lawmakers are expected to again take up the fierce debate over illegal immigration this year with a host of bills looking to deny or expand benefits to the undocumented. Already in this new legislative session, Republicans have proposed bills to deny public benefits to illegal immigrants, crack down on employers who hire them and give law enforcement new tools to arrest them. And reflecting sharp party-line splits, Democrats are looking to expand opportunities available to undocumented immigrants, including granting them the right to drive and providing subsidized health coverage. But, as in previous efforts, little significant action is expected to emerge on the controversial topic as lawmakers remain wary of the complexity of the issue and California voters’ views. “California voters are bipolar,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Cal State Sonoma. “They want to think of themselves as progressive and liberal, and that California is the epitome of the American dream. “But by the same token, they don’t want to pay for or provide access to those who came in to the country illegally.” Republican lawmakers say they are motivated by saving money for taxpayers and by stepping in where the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws. “They’ve got free medical, free education, they qualify for welfare benefits,” said Sen. Tom Harman, R-Costa Mesa. “This is all about money. We’re in tough fiscal times.” Harman has proposed a bill that would authorize local and state law enforcement agencies to charge illegal immigrants with trespassing simply because they are in California without authorization. Currently, enforcement of illegal immigration is primarily a federal responsibility and many local police departments do not get involved in investigating the immigration status of those they arrest or question. Harman’s bill would not necessarily lead to the deportation of the undocumented but would authorize police to ticket them and possibly jail them for short periods. Harman has also authored a bill to require public and private employers in California to do more stringent background checks for citizenship status of job applicants. Other Republican proposals include bills from Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, that would essentially seek to deny most state benefits to illegals; and bills from Cook and Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, that target in-state resident tuition rates. Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, are expected to oppose most of the Republican proposals and analysts say most of them won’t have a chance to get out of committee. “They will have no success,” said Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who has led efforts to protect immigrants. “None whatsoever. They’re wasting their time.” Californians have historically demonstrated mixed views on immigration. In the 1990s, voters approved Proposition 187, which sought to deny most public benefits to illegal immigrants. But the divisive politics behind the measure also caused a backlash that has been credited with a surge in Latino voter registration that helped the Democratic Party. The measure was later overturned by the courts. A new, similar ballot measure authored by conservative Republicans is currently being circulated for signatures in California. It would prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining driver licenses, college tuition benefits and any other benefits not required by federal law. But the Republican proposals, McCuan said, aren’t likely to make it to a floor vote, though they could have potential as ballot measures. Another Republican proposal may have better chance for success because it is less ideologically charged. Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Riverside, has proposed a bill that would ask the federal government to reimburse California for the full costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants who have committed a criminal offense, or take those prisoners into federal custody. According to the state Department of Corrections, about 20,000 of the state’s 174,000 prisoners have been flagged by immigration authorities for possible violations. The state expects to spend about $865 million this year incarcerating them. Meanwhile, Democrats, led by Cedillo, are looking to expand services available to the undocumented. Cedillo is trying yet again to get the state to grant driver licenses to undocumented immigrants, something that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed the previous two legislative sessions. Cedillo hopes this year will be different because his bill seeks to help California implement the new federal Real ID Act, which under federal law must be in place by next year. He has also proposed legislation to allow illegal immigrants to compete for scholarships and financial aid at public colleges and universities. “We know there are millions of immigrants in California speaking over 100 languages, from all over the world,” Cedillo said. “They play critical roles in California. “We, the state of California, should figure out mechanisms to facilitate their assimilation into society.” [email protected] (916) 446-6723 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!