Observations of immigration bill hearing

February 10, 2011
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger submitted this post.

Because the Indiana Lawyer’s immigration law focus section is coming in March, and because, as are many Hoosiers, I’m interested in a Senate bill similar to the law passed in Arizona regarding immigrants, I attended part of Wednesday afternoon’s Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor hearing on Senate Bill 590.

While I expected many people there both supporting and opposing the bill that, among other things, would require only English be used for certain communications, the office of management and budget to determine how much illegal immigrants cost Indiana, and police officers to determine the immigration status of offenders, as well as punish “employers who knowingly employ unauthorized aliens,” I was slightly underwhelmed.

From the buildup this hearing had received, I expected more people, like me, who were there to observe but could only stand in the hallway. There were maybe 40 or 50 of us, not a tiny number but not the hundreds I expected. Then again, I wasn’t allowed in the Senate gallery – it was full before I arrived – and the Senate chamber also looked full. Of those in the chamber, it was difficult to tell who were senators or their staff members, who was there to testify, and who may have been there merely to observe.

While it might have been interesting to sit in the gallery to observe the observers, I decided early in the day that I didn’t have 30 minutes or an hour to sit and wait to guarantee a comfortable spot. For those who do have that time, maybe they deserve those spots more than I do. When the bill comes before the full Senate or, possibly, the House, maybe I’ll plan to get there a little earlier to get a better viewing spot. Better yet, maybe I’ll stay in the office and watch it online like I normally do.

There were a few protestors holding signs in the hall outside of the Senate chambers. “Yes I’m American but I’m no fascist” and “Welcome to Indiana, home of the Superbowl where you will be racially profiled” caught my eye. While these posters may have received the attention of those in the chamber, the bill still passed out of committee by a vote of 8 to 1.

Other observations: the hearing started about 15 minutes late (do these ever start on time?); a few senators came out into the hall to meet with constituents; it is approximately 200 degrees in the Statehouse; the veterans’ groups that spoke early about national security received cheers and applause, but those who were applauding were quickly reminded that no one is allowed to talk during a hearing except for those who are testifying; the TV outside of the Senate chamber did not show what was happening inside as I had hoped; the audio system in the hallway was either too loud or too quiet, depending on who was speaking; and a few people in the hallway who were there to protest the bill brought their young kids.

I couldn’t stay for the entire hearing – I had work to do back at the office and figured I’d follow up with a few of the key people later for my story – but these are worth checking out from time to time, if you have the time. They’re open to the public and free and always a good reminder of how state government works. Or you can watch it live online from the comfort of your desk.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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