More Immigration Bills on the State Level09 Mar 2011
Russell Pierce, the Arizona State Senator who gave us S.B. 1070, has launched another legislative barrage. Just as S.B. 1070 aimed to make local police into de facto immigration enforcement agents by requiring them to demand immigration papers from anyone they stopped who looked potentially like an illegal immigrant, State Sen. Pierce’s new bill would require schools, social services agencies, public housing officials, and employers to check the immigration status of the people they come in contact with. (See AZ Immigration Bills Pass Late Session, by ABC15.com staff, wire reports, 22.Feb.2011.) According to ABC15.com, the bill would allow business licenses to be suspended from employers who fail to use the E-Verify system to check employment eligibility of new hires. It would require schools to police the legal status of students and their parents, and report to law enforcement authorities if there are documentation problems, ABC15.com reports, and would impose similar duties on public housing agencies, hospitals and health clinics. The bill also would make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to drive in Arizona, “providing for a 30-day minimum jail sentence and the seizure of their vehicles if they are convicted,” ABC15.com notes.
Not to be outdone, the Indiana State Senate recently passed its own Arizona-style immigration bill, which “would require state and local police to ask a person they have stopped for a violation for proof of legal residence, but only if the officer has a ‘reasonable suspicion’ the person is not a citizen or is in the country illegally,” the Indianapolis Star reported. (See Immigration Bill Advances to House, by Heather Gillers, Indianapolis Star, 23.Feb.2011.) The bill also would implement an “English only” rule for most government documents and meetings, according to the Indianapolis Star, which notes that several leading companies – among them, Eli Lilly and Cummins, Inc., as well as several in the hospitality industry – have expressed opposition to the bill.
Meanwhile, a Texas state representative, Debbie Riddle, is pushing legislation that “would make it a state felony to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant” – although for some reason, hiring illegal domestic workers such as housekeepers, maids, gardeners, and so on, would not be penalized. (See Texas Bill to Make Hiring Illegal Workers a Felony, by Associated Press, Bloomberg.com, 25.Feb.2011.) Violators would face stiff penalties, according to Bloomberg.com: a fine of up to $10,000 or a jail term ranging from 180 days to two years. The bill would impose a bizarre double standard, harshly punishing business owners for behavior on which homeowners get a free pass.
These new state legislative initiatives seem to prove a corollary to the old maxim that hard cases make bad law; difficult political problems seem to generate a disproportionate share of bad solutions. Many other states are exploring similar approaches to a complex set of problems that really can be solved only on the federal level. However, if enough states decide to take a federal law enforcement function into their own hands, it might increase pressure on Congress to fix our immigration system once and for all. In any case, it would call the bluff of state legislators who claim that it was only federal inaction that forced them into such drastic measures.