By Dr. Sue Weishar, Migration Specialist
In 2010 the state of Arizona passed SB 1070 which greatly expanded the powers of police officers to question the immigration status of the people they stop. Many feared the bill opened the door to intrusive questioning of anyone who looked Hispanic or dark-skinned, spoke with an accent, or appeared “different.” Before the law was able to go into effect the most controversial aspects of SB 1070 were stopped by the federal courts. 1 Such judicial action, however, did little to dissuade other state legislatures from proposing SB 1070 “copy-cat” legislation in 2011. According to the Associated Press, over half of the states considered Arizona-style enforcement measures this year, up from just six in 2010.
Now that the dust has settled, what was the fate of the many anti-immigrant bills proposed during the 2011 legislative sessions in the Gulf South states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas? Immigrant advocates can take heart that Arizona copy-cat legislation failed to pass in Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and a “sanctuary cities” bill died in Texas, despite strong support from the governor. Unfortunately a bill even worse than SB 1070 was enacted in Alabama. Below is an overview of how anti-immigrant legislation fared in the Gulf South in 2011 and Catholic advocacy efforts to defeat the bills.
Early in 2011 Texas Governor Rick Perry indicated that passage of Senate Bill 9, the so-called sanctuary cities bill, was a top priority. SB 9 mandated that state aid be withheld from local governments, such as the city of Austin, that prohibit police from inquiring about immigration status. After the bill failed to pass in the regular session, Perry had it re-introduced in the special session, where it died after pushback from influential Republican donors, religious leaders, and law enforcement officials from across the state. Unfortunately a provision was added to a fiscal bill in the special session that prevents undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license. Hundreds of Catholics from across the state were active in efforts to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, including participation in A Catholic Faith in Action Day on April 6th at the State Capitol. The Texas Catholic Conference was vigilant in opposing anti-immigrant legislation during both sessions. Read the testimony of the Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference, Jeffery Patterson, opposing SB 9.
In Florida SB 2040, which required every employer to use E-Verify for all new employees, and HB 7089, which authorized law enforcement officers to verify the status of people they take into custody, faced intense opposition from the Hispanic community, business and agriculture industries, religious leaders, and immigrant rights advocates and failed to pass. Two legislators of Hispanic descent who strongly supported both bills came under intense scrutiny from the Hispanic community after radio ads ran on several Spanish language stations for over a week questioning their commitment to the Hispanic community. Both legislators quickly reversed their positions. The Florida Catholic Bishops were resolute in their opposition to anti-immigrant legislation. See a letter from the Florida bishops opposing anti-immigrant legislation and an action alert issued by the Florida Catholic Conference against HB 7098. Florida Catholics also participated in the annual Catholic Days at the Capitol, March 15-16, and the annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit.
An SB 1070 copy cat bill, SB 2179, was passed by the Mississippi Senate, but after an amendment was added to the bill by the House that greatly increased fines to employers found to be in violation of the proposed law, the bill died in conference committee. Religious opposition to the bill in Mississippi was strong. The Bishop of Jackson, Joseph Latino, called for a Day of Prayer and Fasting for just immigration reform and to oppose SB 2179. The dioceses of Biloxi and Jackson held their first joint advocacy day at the state capitol in early spring. Bishop Latino joined Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi and Bishop Hope Ward Morgan of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Duncan Gray of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, and Bishop Julian Gordy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southeastern Synod, in co-signing a letter opposing SB 2179 and calling for comprehensive immigration reform. See a reference to their letter in the New York Times.
Two E-Verify bills passed in the Louisiana legislature, but two Arizona copy-cat bills died. HB 342 requires all private contractors who want to do business with a state or local public entity to use E-Verify. House Bill 646 requires all private businesses to either use E-Verify to check the status of employees or to keep on file photo identifications of its employees that prove the legal status of workers. The Louisiana Workforce Commission is charged with enforcing HB 646, but no enforcement mechanism was included in HB 342. Surprisingly the sponsor of HB 342 was key in sinking an Arizona copy-cat bill, HB 59, in the House Judiciary Committee that he chairs. The sponsor of the other Arizona copy-cat bill, HB 411, pulled the bill after it received a fiscal note indicating it would cost the state $11 million to enforce. Rob Tasman, Associate Director of the Louisiana Catholic Conference, led efforts to oppose anti-immigrant bills in the Louisiana legislature on behalf of the Church. Sue Weishar, JSRI Migration Specialist, provided expert testimony with Rob when all four bills were heard in committee.
What many believe to be the harshest anti-immigrant bill to ever be enacted at the state level was signed into law by the Governor of Alabama on June 9. HB 56, like Arizona’s SB 1070, authorizes state and local police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop based on a “reasonable suspicion”. But the bill goes far beyond Arizona’s by barring undocumented students from enrolling in any public college after high school and requiring Alabama public schools to determine the immigration status of all students. Public school officials must also publish figures on the number of immigrant children, both documented and undocumented, who enroll in their schools and the costs associated with educating undocumented students. The bill criminalizes renting or providing transportation to an undocumented immigrant and requires all Alabama employers to use E-Verify to confirm the legal status of all workers.
On July 8 the Southern Poverty Law Center led a coalition of civil rights groups in filing a class action lawsuit challenging HB 56. Opposition to the bill, especially from the religious community, has been growing since the bill passed. A rally and candlelight vigil sponsored by church and faith-based groups drew a diverse crowd of nearly 2000 people to the streets of downtown Birmingham on July 9th. The Alabama bishops issued a joint public letter opposing HB 56. Fr. Ted Arroyo, the Alabama associate for JSRI, testified against HB 56 and remains active in efforts to organize a faith response to challenge HB 56.
A frequent claim heard in statehouses around the country this past year was that states must take action on immigration because Congress will not. Until Congress has the courage and will to take on comprehensive immigration reform, it appears that considerable time and energy will be needed at the state and local level to oppose anti-immigrant legislation. Support by a broad base of Catholic voters working in coalition with other groups will be key to defeating future anti-immigrant legislation. Many Catholics will continue to draw their inspiration from the Church’s call to uphold and protect the dignity and worth of all persons, especially those “overwhelmed by want,” the anawim-- widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor in our midst,2 including our undocumented sisters and brothers.
1. On April 11, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court upheld a preliminary injunction from a federal district court issued on July 29, 2010, which stopped the following four provisions of SB 1070 from being enforced: 1) Explicitly requiring state and local law-enforcement officials to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain, or arrest; 2) Making it a misdemeanor to fail to carry proper immigration documents, with fines and jail time for such violations; 3) Making it illegal for unauthorized immigrants to solicit work in any public space; 4) Authorizing local police to arrest without a warrant any person they believe is “removable from the U.S.” The following are some of the provisions of SB 1070 which remain in effect: SB 1070 still makes it unlawful for any person to transport, move, conceal, harbor, or shield from detection any person one knows to be unauthorized; allows officers to detain a person to make inquiries into their immigration status if the person cannot produce valid documents; allows private citizens to sue state law-enforcement agencies; and prohibits municipalities from having any policies in place that limit the investigation of violations of federal immigration laws. (This last provision may affect community policing policies intended to increase trust and cooperation between immigrant communities and the police.) Because one judge dissented from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, Arizona will most likely ask the case to be re-argued before a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges. If that request fails, and the Supreme Court declines to rule, then the case will be returned to the District Court judge in Phoenix to determine whether the temporary injunction should be made permanent. From a special report by the Immigration Policy Center.
2. From Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought by Fred Kammer, S.J. (New York: Paulist Press, 2004), p. 24.
Copyright © 2011, Jesuit Social Research Institute.
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