As a contentious immigration law that went into effect in Arizona last summer continues to be challenged and further changes are being considered by Arizona lawmakers, similar bills at the state and local level, including one in the Indiana Statehouse, have been gaining traction.
Last year’s Arizona bill increases the authority of police officers to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. Senate Bill 590 in Indiana goes beyond that to include provisions that some fear could affect both legal and illegal immigrants, leading to racial profiling.
A prominent group of civic leaders including the Indiana attorney general, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, presidents of universities in Indiana, leaders of domestic violence organizations, and others have signed the Indiana Compact of the Alliance for Immigration Reform in Indiana to say they oppose the immigration legislation.
The bill has also caused concern among at least two of Indiana’s largest employers, Eli Lilly and Cummins, which have publicly said the bill will send the wrong message to their many employees who are legal immigrants and have relocated to Indiana to work for them.
SB 590 has the support of the majority of the Indiana Senate. It passed with a 31-18 vote Feb. 22. No Senate Democrats voted for the bill, and five Republicans voted against it. The one excused senator was the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who was taking the Indiana bar exam on the day of the vote.
“Today’s vote was a key step in the legislative process,” Delph said in a statement Feb. 22. Delph has authored and supported similar legislation in past sessions. “I will continue to work with my fellow lawmakers to send a clear message that Indiana will no longer be a sanctuary for people who are in our state and country illegally because of our federal government’s failure to act on illegal immigration,” he said.
Various organizations testified on behalf of the bill during debate at the committee level, including employers who use e-Verify to determine if employees are able to work in the United States legally, an expert on homeland security, and veterans’ organizations who expressed concern about Mexican citizens who commit crimes, including violent gang activity.
Yet outside of that hearing, protesters carried signs that said “Yes, I’m American but I’m not fascist” and “Welcome to Indiana, home of the Super Bowl where you will be racially profiled.”
In addition to expanding the authority of local and state police regarding illegal immigrants, which has caused concerns of racial profiling, the bill would require employers to use the e-Verify System; the Indiana Department of Correction to verify citizenship of offenders committed to a correctional facility; the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to verify citizenship before determining eligibility for unemployment benefits; and the Indiana State Police to consider training of federal immigration and customs laws for officers. It would establish penalties for anyone who knowingly transports, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection an illegal immigrant for commercial or private financial gain; and it would require English to be used in public meetings, public documents, and by officers and employees of state or political subdivisions.
Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis professor and immigration law expert Maria Pabon Lopez has been following the legislation and stories about other legislation, including the Arizona law.
She said the Indiana legislation seemed misguided because there is already federal legislation in place. It would be costly, she said, to train police officers on customs and immigration issues.
“Indiana already has an ICE office in Indianapolis, and they already have their priorities,” she said of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. If anything, she said, it would make more sense for state and local police to work with ICE instead of the Legislature implementing a state law about how police officers interact with immigrants.
Seven lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2010. Those cases in the Arizona District Court, all before the same judge, have all been dismissed, except for the Department of Justice case. It was heard by the 9th Circuit Nov. 1, 2010. No decision had been issued as of Feb. 25.
On Feb. 10, 2011, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit against the federal government, claiming that the federal government was violating Arizona’s 10th Amendment rights.
Michael A. Olivas, an immigration law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, mentioned other law suits, including one in Farmers Branch, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
Farmers Branch was one of the first towns to pass an ordinance targeted at undocumented immigrants. The ordinance was challenged by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. MALDEF won, Olivas said, but the litigation will cost Farmers Branch. He said it could take years for MALDEF to collect their costs and attorney fees.
As for the Arizona law, he said, “It’s working if you want to bankrupt your state and drive out anybody who doesn’t look white and if you want to draw critical attention to yourself.”
Olivas also mentioned various studies regarding how the Arizona legislation has led to the state losing money.
A November 2010 study by the Center for American Progress, linked to the Immigration Policy Center’s website, looks at lost revenue as a result of conferences that boycotted Arizona.
“Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association publicly reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after the bill’s passage,” the report stated. “Our extensive research estimates that the actual lost lodging revenue from these cancellations is at least three times that amount: $45 million. That estimate provides a basis for calculating other losses in visitor spending. Analyzing average food and beverage, entertainment, in-town transportation, and retail sales brings the combined loss of estimated conference attendee spending up to a startling $141 million.”
Lopez added this could be a concern for the Super Bowl and other large events in Indianapolis that might be boycotted if a similar law was passed here.
In response to concerns about homeland security and other issues, Lopez and Olivas agreed that this bill would not necessarily deter terrorist threats. They also compared the crime rates of undocumented immigrants and the general population and said more crimes were committed by U.S. citizens.
In a joint statement, Eli Lilly and Cummins expressed concerns that the bill would hurt economic and business development in Indiana in the engineering and bioscience fields.
Attorney Robert F. Seidler Jr., a shareholder in the Indianapolis office of Ogletree Deakins’ labor and employment practice, said he has been keeping clients informed of what the bill might mean for them.
One provision that led to concern by employers but was removed from the bill, he said, was the three strikes rule. Under that rule, if an employer knowingly employs an illegal immigrant and is caught three times, the business would lose its license. The first or second time there would be probationary periods with supervision.
He said employers are still concerned about the e-Verify requirements for various reasons, including that e-Verify isn’t 100 percent accurate. He added some employers may not realize that e-Verify is in addition to, and not to be used as a substitute for, the I-9 form, which is also used to determine if someone is legally able to work in the United States based on his or her immigrant status.
The bill is now under consideration by the Indiana House of Representatives and is sponsored by Rep. Eric A. Koch, R-Bedford. Koch also wrote an amicus brief last September supporting the state of Arizona in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Department of Justice.•