TrendMore states push for stricter immigration laws

Published 18 January 2011

Kentucky and Nebraska have introduced tough Arizona-style immigration laws; critics hold that these laws violate civil liberties and encourage racial profiling; more states will likely pass similar immigration enforcement bills; a federal court has already struck down the most controversial portion of the Arizona immigration law and the Department of Justice is challenging it; paradoxically a majority of Americans support stricter enforcement and a path to citizenship

States across the United States are moving to crack down on illegal immigration passing strict Arizona-style enforcement laws.

In Kentucky Republican senators are currently pushing a bill that would dramatically expand law enforcement officials’ power to enforce federal immigration laws.

According to Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader, Senate Bill 6 is stricter than Arizona’s immigration law. The Kentucky bill contains similar provisions that would allow police to request documents from an individual to determine if they had entered the country illegally or not. Kentucky’s law, however, goes one step further with a provision that critics say makes it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to set foot in Kentucky.

According to Rev. Pat Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the Kentucky bill contains language that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants for trespassing on Kentucky soil.

This provision “was originally in the Arizona law, but it was taken out,” said Delahanty. “It’s not a deportable offense.”

The bill also makes it a criminal offense for smuggling illegal immigrants and “aiding and abetting” illegal immigrants.

Kentucky has one of the smallest populations of illegal immigrants in the United States with studies estimating that the number is somewhere between 26,000 to 45,000.

Kentucky is not alone in seeking to pass stricter immigration laws, as at least ten other states are considering similar laws.

In Nebraska, on 6 January 2011, a Republican State Senator introduced a similar bill. According to the Nebraska Journal Star, the bill, the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, would require law enforcement officers to verify if a person has entered the country legally. Those without proper identification would be arrested and federal immigration authorities would be notified.

Nebraska State Senator Charlie Janssen in introducing the bill stated, “This bill is meant to stop illegal immigration and protect the citizens of the state of Nebraska in several ways. It will protect the taxpayers from having to pay for the education, welfare and medical expenses of illegal aliens.”

Critics of these bills argue that they cannot be properly enforced without racial profiling.

Civil rights advocates have been heartened by a federal judge’s decision to block the most controversial portion of the Arizona law, preventing law enforcement officers from checking a person’s immigration status.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also issue legal challenges to the Arizona law arguing that enforcement of immigration laws falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal government and should not rest with state or local authorities.

According to a Pew Research survey, a significant majority of Americans support the beefed up provisions of the Arizona immigration law, but that same opinion poll found that 68 percent of people also support providing a path for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship.

In explaining these somewhat contradictory findings, Wendy Sefsaf, the communications director of the American Immigration Council, said, “We have to dig beneath the surface. Americans want solutions, even if sometimes they are bad ones or not really solutions at all.”

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, echoed this sentiment in stating, “The public still perceives that large sections of the border are not policed, that illegal immigrants can still easily secure jobs, and that local law enforcement is not cooperating with federal government.” In short, “there is a strong sense among the public that the government is not doing enough to address immigration,” he said.

The recent introduction of tougher enforcement laws seems to be a reflection of long term dissatisfaction rather than a fundamental shift in thinking.

Camarota cautions, though, that “the state is not the ideal place for these types of enforcement laws, but the generally preferred solution by the public is enforcement.”

With federal courts supporting this idea and gutting major portions of Arizona’s immigration law, Camarota points to earlier Arizona immigration laws. In particular, he cites Arizona’s Legal Arizona Workers Act, passed in 2008, which mandates that employers use the E-Verify system with all newly hired employees.

The E-Verify program is a free program available online run by the Department of Homeland Security and uses information from its records as well as the Social Security Administration to determine if prospective employees are documented.

Currently five other states including Rhode Island, Georgia, and South Carolina require businesses to use the E-Verify program.

For now while public sentiment tends toward enforcement, it is likely that states will continue to introduce more muscular immigration enforcement laws. Whether they become law and stand up to the scrutiny of the courts remains to be seen.