January 28, 2011

Church against Senate proposal aimed at undocumented immigrants

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Frustrated by the federal government’s inaction to fix a broken federal immigration system, state lawmakers will take on the issue by introducing an undocumented immigrant bill making Indiana inhospitable—particularly if a person is of Hispanic descent, legal citizen or not—says a spokesperson for the Church.

“The undocumented immigrant bill, Senate Bill 590, is another example of the frustration we all have over the federal government’s irresponsibility in not dealing properly with the immigration issue,” said Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference executive director and spokesman for the five Indiana bishops on public policy issues.

“The Catholic Church shares the frustration,” Tebbe said. “We see the faces and minister to families and children every day who are harmed by a flawed law. The problems are serious and complex. The solution must be addressed in a comprehensive manner on the federal, not state level.

“Current immigration law is having a harmful impact on human life and human dignity,” he added. “The Church has stated that the status quo is immoral.”

Tebbe said that Senate Bill 590 gives the appearance of addressing this concern, but would exacerbate the problem and create new ones.

“The impact of this type of legislation is far reaching, and would have devastating, unintended consequences of harming families and children,” Tebbe said.

“The Church is insistent in calling for comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system on the federal level.”

The Church is not the only group concerned about the bill’s negative impact. Members of Indiana’s business community, other faith groups and several social service organizations are weighing in.

Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturer’s Association, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence have raised serious concerns and are opposing the bill.

These independent groups, along with the ICC and others, have joined forces to form a coalition called the Alliance for Immigration Reform in Indiana.

“These independent groups are working together to affect positive, constructive change for the immigrant community,” Tebbe said.

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, is against passage of Senate Bill 590.

“I’m opposed to the bill largely because I’m very, very concerned about the language that whenever someone is in violation of a city or local ordinance, law enforcement, if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the person is not lawfully in this country, they can ask for verification of citizenship,’ he said. “I have a real problem with this because I don’t know how the ‘reasonable suspicion’ could be anything but how they look or how they talk. This could be anything as [little] as a parking ticket.”

The bill also would require state government documents, phone lines and electronic media to be available only in English.

“The English-only tenor that is throughout the bill—even on state websites—is out of line. I don’t think that’s helpful in anyway,” Broden said.

“I also think this could have very negative consequences for our state economy going forward,” added Broden, who is an attorney. “We talk about the new economy, which includes very often numerous very high tech positions, filled by people who are lawfully here from China or India who are highly educated. I’m not sure how attractive our state is going to be if we enact a law like this. These highly skilled professionals will think twice before coming to Indiana if this is the attitude we project.”

Broden said he has always felt tackling the immigration challenge is a federal matter.

“There should not be a patchwork of 50 different immigration laws,” Broden said. “It’s bad policy for the country, and very bad policy for the state.”

Angela Adams, an Indianapolis immigration attorney, also said she sees numerous problems with the legislation.

“First and foremost is the cost,” Adams said. “There is the cost to implement enforcement and the litigation costs when the state is sued on basis of constitutionality. There are also the costs to the economy due to decreased tax revenue, decreased economic output and a decrease in consumer purchasing power from the immigrant community—undocumented and legal immigrants.”

If Senate Bill 590 passes, Adams said, it would “have a huge negative impact on our economy.”

Adams said that in neighboring Kentucky, the state Senate passed a similar bill and that the estimated cost to taxpayers there is $40 million per year.

“We don’t want to pass something costly, unconstitutional and not welcoming,” she said.

“The big message is we really don’t want Indiana to be perceived as an unwelcoming state—for immigrant entrepreneurs and immigrant investors,” Adams said. “We want to reaffirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state. That would be good for the economy. There are less harmful, more constructive ways to send a message to the federal government.”

Senate Bill 590 is scheduled to be heard at 9 a.m. on Feb. 2 by the Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor in the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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