Salinas: Senate Bill 590 is a step back for Indiana

March 2, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary


Salinas-Jose Salinas

By Marion Superior Judge Jose Salinas

I believe that members of Indiana’s legal profession have a duty to voice their concerns when laws are proposed that could dramatically affect the civil liberties of individuals living in Indiana. Think about it, what if you could have voiced your opinion when laws imposing poll taxes or prohibitions against interracial marriages were being considered in some state legislatures. Would you have done it?

My opposition to Senate Bill 590 rests primarily on the provision that obligates local police to enforce federal immigration policy. The bill states that during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest, if police have probable cause to believe a person is not in the United States lawfully, they must request verification of identity and citizenship or immigration status from the federal government. Note, the bill originally used reasonable suspicion as the standard to be applied.

SB 590 mirrors Arizona’s immigration law, which has been temporarily enjoined by Federal District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton. Judge Bolton cited the federal resources that would be diverted from their primary function and the potential burden the law would place on legally present aliens to routinely produce their documents as two reasons for issuing the injunction. In her decision, Judge Bolton did not address the issue of racial profiling. I will.

This ticking time bomb of legal analysis relies on the interpretation of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. It is unclear which legal standard the final version of the bill will use. However, the question remains, how do police get to the level of having reasonable suspicion/probable cause within the context of SB 590? Police, using their training, must rely on observations they make in any given situation in order to formulate reasonable suspicion/probable cause of criminal activity and proceed to the next level of action. These observations normally consist of physical actions on the part of the people they deal with.

In my view, SB 590 would allow police to articulate reasonable suspicion/probable cause from observations of a person’s attributes as opposed to conduct. This would give police the right to take into account someone’s skin color, accent, last name and ability to speak English in evaluating whether they believe someone is undocumented and whether the individual’s legal status needs to be verified. The subjective nature of evaluating someone’s attributes lends itself to human error. SB 590 would take Indiana back to the days when all police used for reasonable suspicion or probable cause was the color of a person’s skin.

For those who say such a prediction is unrealistic in today’s judicial system, remember what police will use in considering whether a person’s legal status needs to be verified. Police observations will consist of a person’s actions and attributes. I submit to you that a person’s actions would be inconclusive in determining citizenship. My fear is that how a person looks or talks will be the way that police get to the questions of “where are you from?” and “are you here legally?” The bill’s author, state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said he believes how a person speaks English will be an important factor for police in implementing this law.

Originally, SB 590 had reasonable suspicion as the level of constitutionality required for police to inquire as to an individual’s legal status, but that was changed in committee to the higher standard of probable cause. I am convinced that the legal standard was changed because committee members realized the problematic nature of the task they are asking of police. Under either standard, police will be using the same observational criteria to establish justification for their actions. In today’s courts, a person’s skin color, accent, or ability to speak a certain language should not be enough to establish the constitutional requisites needed to make an inquiry into a person’s legal status.

I ask you to consider the following: Who is an officer more likely to suspect as an illegal immigrant and thus required to prove he is in the U.S. legally, John Smith or Jose Salinas? Delph would like you to believe that all Hoosiers will be treated the same under this law. Unfortunately, history has shown us that the reality could be far more ominous. I am not saying that police should be blind to the immigration issue. But Hoosiers need to be careful in blindly giving police this type of unfettered discretion with our individual freedoms.

To me, being a member of the Indiana bar means voicing your opinions on bills that attack the very fabric of our U.S. and state constitutions. I invite you to do the same.•


The Hon. Jose Salinas serves Marion Superior Court’s Criminal Division 14. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.


  • double standard
    The comparison between John Smith and Jose Salinas is inapposite. The absolute number of illegal immigrants with English names versus Hispanic names is not knowable, but, we do know that there are millions more illegal immigrants here from Mexico and Latin America than there are from Great Britian. That is a factual reality and His Honor ignores it just as the rest of the illegal immigration apologists do. Nevertheless, it is a well written editorial and I have seen plenty worse, such as the NPR buffoon calling all Tea-Partiers and Republicans uneducated racists.

    Which reminds me. It was not so long ago that Mexico did not even allow ownership of land by foreigners. And I recall hearing more than once about human rights abuses by the Mexican federales on their southern border with Guatemala that shock the conscience and make American detention look pleasant and humane by comparison. I find it obnoxious that Mexican presidents come to this country and lecture Americans when their own record with Guatemalans is woefully bad.

    In short, there is a double standard that some people want to impose on Americans where immigration is concerned.

    PS how about all that democracy we are supposedly fighting for in Iraq and Afganistan? I wonder what they would think of the idea of the judiciary telling the legislature that the legislature cant pass immigration control laws. Some democracy!
  • I agree
    Well written and thoughtful. This commentary by Judge Salinas is right on point. SB 590 is bad policy. A person should be stopped, detained, and questioned based on his/her affirmative acts that reasonably may cause suspicion that a crime has been committed or is being committed. Not based on skin color, dialect, accent or last name.
    In this instance, too much subjective discretion leaves too much room for error and miscalculation.
    Good work Judge.

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  1. Mr Smith, while most reading these posts are too busy making money or cranking out what passes for justice in our legal-techocrat order,I have often attempted to resist your cynicism, well thought out cynicism I admit. Please know that I give up, I can resist your logic no more. From Locknarian Platonic Guardians, through the incorporation doctine, to substantive due process, to Roe, to the latest demands that all states redefine the foundational stone of all civilized social order, the history of America's fall from Grace is inscribed on the dockets of the judiciary. From the federal judges' apostasy of a kind that would have caused John Jay to recommend capital punishment, to the state judges' refusal to protect the sanctuary of the state constitutions, seeing in them merely a font from which to protect pornographers, those who scream "f*ck the police" and pemubras and emanations following the federal apostates, it has been the judiciary, by and large, that has brought the Experiment in Ordered Liberty to an end. The Founders had great and high hopes that they had designed the third branch to save the Republic from such a time as this ... rather the third branch has allowed itself to be used to drag the Republic into rat infested sewers from which no nation has ever returned. Save me from tomorrow:

  2. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  3. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  4. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  5. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied