The American Dream could turn into a nightmare for many
Indiana immigrants if two new bills currently winding their way through the
Statehouse become law.
The first, Senate Bill 590, would allow law enforcement
officers to detain anyone whom they have "reasonable suspicion" is not in the
country legally, and promises to make English the standard language for the
majority of government documents. Businesses also could be shuttered for
employing non-sanctioned workers.
The bill bears more than a passing resemblance to Arizona's
hotly-contested Senate Bill 1070, made into law last April, which critics have
said institutionalizes racial profiling. Just over two months after the bill
was passed, the Obama Administration sued to prevent its enforcement, arguing
that only the federal government could enforce immigration laws. President
Obama called the legislation "misguided."
A second bill, HB 1402, would "prohibit resident tuition for
illegal aliens" at higher learning institutions in the Hoosier state, according
to the language of the bill. This bill comes hot on the heels of the December
defeat of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minor Act —
known as the DREAM Act — by a mostly Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
The DREAM Act was co-sponsored by Senior Indiana Sen.
Richard Lugar, and would have created a path to citizenship for young,
undocumented immigrants who completed two years in either the military or as a
With Republicans in control of both chambers of the
Statehouse, there's a good chance bills like SB 590 and HB 1402 could pass. But
critics inside and outside the Statehouse are busy mounting their opposition.
Katherine Souchet-Moura of the
Latino/a Youth Collective (latinoyouthcollective.com), a local youth and
advocacy group, has been among those organizing a campaign against the bills.
"Indiana... can and should focus on passing laws that create
inclusive and safe communities," she said, "instead of proposing policies that
scapegoat, divide and create fear."
One of the most concerning factors to minority advocates is
what they say is a potential for racial profiling if SB 590 is passed.
Pedro Roman, president of the Indiana Latino Democratic
Caucus, said the bill could unfairly infringe on the rights of legal citizens
who could be held on suspicion of possible immigration violations.
"There is no way to know for sure (who is undocumented) by
looking at someone," he said. "What do you base it on? Race?Accent?"
State Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel),
who introduced SB 590, said he specifically included language in the bill to
prevent institutional discrimination, but that it was up to officers to adhere
to this dictum.
"Just like any other walk of life there's going to be folks
who are going to be doing this above board and others who are not," he said.
"We can only hope that law enforcement would do the right thing and enforce the
law as written by the legislature."
Delph said his bill was only
reaffirming statutes already in place. This included the 1968 Supreme Court
decision Terry v. Ohio, which established "reasonable suspicion" as an
acceptable cause for breaking with Fourth Amendment protections against
unlawful search and seizure.
Delph's assurances hold little
water with the bill's critics, however, who point to more recent decisions that
have circumscribed the power of Terry v. Ohio. The 1983 Supreme Court case, Kolender v. Lawson, for example, ruled that a California
law requiring "loiterers" and "wanderers" to show identification was too vague.
Applications of the reasonable suspicion standard, the court ruled, are to be
"fleeting and unobtrusive as possible."
Souchet-Moura argued that such a
bill would have unintended consequences.
"It is important to recognize that passing SB 590 would
affect more than just the Hispanic community," Souchet-Moura
said. "Immigrants, documented and undocumented, come from all over the world
and are from all ethnic backgrounds. SB
590 is likely to have unintended consequences such as mistrust and fear towards
law enforcement and racial profiling."
Detractors in the statehouse, including Rep. Ed Delaney
(D-Indianapolis), contend it isn't Indiana's place, nor
that of any state, to force through such legislation. He said that, by
definition, state and local legislative bodies cannot change how federal
immigration laws are enforced.
"There is no doubt that there is an issue," he said. "But
for us to assume the responsibility of the federal government is something we
have neither the time nor the money for."
Roman said such legislation would also create a negative
impact on Indiana's economy by discouraging tourism in the state at a time when
the overall fiscal picture is less than sunny.
"Any tourist from any country could be hauled in for
immigration charges until they are cleared," he said. "People in town for the
Indy 500 could be detained."
No real substance
Delaney said the push for bills like HB 1402 revealed a split
within the GOP — a party that has increasingly embraced the Tea Party base that
helped sweep them into power last November. The
Richard Lugar-style Republican, he said, was in short supply among the party's
"The (bills are) simply symbolic," he said. "It shows one of
the big tensions in the Republican party. We've got these message bills with no
Because HB 1402 wouldn't add any new enforcement mechanisms
to existing law, critics say the bill is effectively toothless - and redundant.
Undocumented students already aren't legal residents of Indiana today, but many
pay in-state tuition rates.
As such, some close to the issue say HB 1402, which consists
of only a few sentences, is a symbolic gesture directed towards the reactionary
base that has come to define the Republican Party both locally and nationally.
They say a vote for the bill is essentially a ready-made campaign ad for those
willing to appeal to the most virulently anti-immigrant segment of the voting
"It is cosmetic," said Roman, of the Indiana Latino
Democratic Caucus. "It's for appearances because it fails to provide mechanisms
to verify applicant status. Basically it looks good for those with radical
Still, the message HB 1402 sends is clear. And, as observers
have noted, it might be empty enough that it passes with little trouble.
To those in the crosshairs of these new proposed legal
restrictions, their future is beginning to feel like a campaign issue.
"Undocumented students and their families, like all
residents, contribute to the economy of Indiana through a variety of taxes,"
like property and income tax, Souchet-Moura said. "As
such, they should be able to access this same benefit."
'Fear and ideology'
Delaney said he would do everything he could to stop the
passage of the bills, but with the newly recharged Republican majority holding
the gavel inside 200 W. Washington St., there was a good chance one or both
Those closest to the issue agreed that SB 590 had far more
potential than HB 1402 to create new headaches for legal residents and tourists
who might find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At publication time, HB 1402 was still in committee. A
hearing on SB 590, originally scheduled for Feb. 2, has been pushed back to
In the meantime, opponents inside the Statehouse vowed to
keep fighting what they've characterized as irrational.
"With the house bill we're solving problems that don't exist
and with the senate bill were creating problems we don't need," Delaney said.
"We're dealing with fear and ideology. Those things don't lead to rational