Michigan, meet Indiana: Blaming unions


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


Immigration reform.

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 &#8212 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 &#8212 anyone, that is, with a Latino-sounding name or look or

accent &#8212 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 &#8212 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 &#8212 make that anti-Latino

&#8212 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

today's Hoosiers.

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.


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