Indiana. It figures.
The state is beset with real problems: high
unemployment, a sputtering education system and failing grades for
environmental quality. We're saddled with an antiquated township system of
local government that siphons precious tax dollars away from underfunded public
So what are Republicans talking about at the
Carmel Republican Sen. Mike Delph
has brought forth a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 590, that would require
you to prove you're in this country legally if a cop decides he doesn't like
the way you look or speak the language — that is, if the cop has what Delph calls "reasonable suspicion" about your status.
Make that if you look Mexican.
Delph and many of his fellow
Republicans believe the federal government has made a hash of enforcing the
country's immigration laws. That's a fair point. A point, it should be added,
that might apply equally to a number of other things the federal government is
empowered to do, from conducting foreign policy to the allocation of tax
When it comes to immigration, though, Sen. Delph and his colleagues aren't content to grumble about
the federal government, they're determined to do something about it.
And so Indiana may be on the verge of joining Arizona
as having the harshest immigration policy in the country.
Delph's bill would not only
demand that people — anyone, that is, with a Latino-sounding name or look or
accent — carry proof of their right to be here at all times. It would also impose
tax penalties on businesses that repeatedly hire illegal immigrants, insist
that government documents and hearings be conducted in English, and require the
state to calculate the costs of illegal immigration and seek reimbursement from
Delph has written that, "I do my
best to follow and obey both the United States and Indiana State constitutions."
Yet in modeling his bill on contested legislation in Arizona, he is arguing for
a punitive interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that will likely mean a
costly trip to the Supreme Court.
Delph has also publicly aligned
himself with the Tea Party movement, citizens who express a desire for smaller,
less intrusive government. But in extending the reach of state and local law enforcement
into a federal jurisdiction, Delph is, in fact,
advocating for a bigger, more intrusive and, yes, more expensive role for state
Maybe that's why the state's Attorney General, Greg Zoeller, has come out against Delph's
bill by signing the "Indiana Compact," a document supported by business,
religious and university leaders declaring immigration "a federal policy issue
between the U.S. government and other countries — not Indiana and other
Although this bill flies in the face of their supposed
political principles, asks for a costly legal challenge to constitutional
precedent, and has been roundly repudiated by the state's leadership class, Delph and his fellow Republicans are pressing on. The bill
appears to have plenty of support in the Republican Senate, where it was passed
in last year's session, only to be derailed by Democrats in the House. Now that
Republicans have a majority in that body, SB 590 could become law, yoking
Indiana to Arizona as one of the two most anti-immigrant — make that anti-Latino
— states in the nation.
How did we get here? Look no further than the turgid
state of Indiana's economy. Gov. Daniels and his backers in the punditocracy can crow all they want about Indiana jobs, but
peoples' everyday experience keeps insisting that good jobs here are scarce,
that our economy isn't really growing. This has created an atmosphere reminiscent
of the period right after World War I, when struggling Hoosiers turned their
suspicions toward immigrant European laborers, Blacks, Catholics and Jews into
a virulent political movement that took form as the Ku Klux Klan.
For about five years in the 1920's, the Klan and
Indiana politics were practically synonymous. The governor belonged to the Klan
and so did the mayor of Indianapolis. In his book, Indiana: An Interpretation, John Bartlow Martin tells the story of how a mob in North
Manchester once stopped a train and forced a single, frightened passenger to
prove he was not the Pope.
It's tempting to treat a story like this like a rustic
scrap of ancient folklore, the kind of thing that happened long ago and far
away. But that was 1924. The people in that mob were the great grandparents of
The fear and suspicion that enabled the Klan to become
a force in Indiana set this state back in ways we may not have the appetite to
deal with, but haven't fully recovered from, either. Instead of coming to grips
with the structural problems that continue to dog Indiana's economy, politicians
are exploiting the impulse to blame people who look or speak different from the
rest of us. Mike Delph may call this "immigration
reform," but it's nothing but a new name for an old and toxic kind of political
If Delph and his fellow
Republicans get this law, Indiana will make news. People will see what's
happened here and say: Indiana. It figures.