Now, the House Judiciary Committee will consider a bill that would overturn last year’s U.S. Supreme Court finding that the federal government, not the states, has control over immigration law. The House proposal would effectively abdicate the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement and let states enact racial profiling laws, making Latinos and others who appear “foreign” subject to additional scrutiny and unconstitutional detentions by law enforcement.
The single-minded focus of H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (“SAFE Act”), is to locate, detain, and aid in the deportation of immigrants. It does not fix the problems with the nation’s legal immigration system, nor does it create any road to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who are vital members of our families, communities, and economy.
Worse, it would radically vest enforcement decisions in the hands of state and local police without federal oversight, effectively creating a patchwork of thousands of immigration regimes and place the federal government in the back seat with only the responsibility to remove non-citizens from the United States.
We saw the dire consequences of these harmful policies in Arizona where S.B. 1070 prompted civil rights lawsuits that formed the basis of last year’s Supreme Court case. In 2011, Alabama’s racial profiling law was designed to be tougher than Arizona’s and the experiences of some of the state’s residents bear repeating.
After the law took effect, a Latino family reported pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot in Decatur, Ala., and being followed by a police unit for a half-mile before getting pulled over. The officer told the driver he had parked in the no-parking zone in front of the store. The man, whose family was with him, explained he had pulled up to the store exit to pick up his wife and young child and spare them the cold walk to the car. The man asked the officer why he was not stopped in the parking lot, and the officer responded by threatening to issue a ticket. For what? Not signaling when he made a turn, came the next explanation. But, no ticket was issued, as there was no cause for the stop.
Similarly, a longtime Alabama resident from Honduras who is legally in the United States, complained of being stopped after dark by police and subjected to a prolonged roadside detention. The officer had followed her for a while before pulling her over. The officer first asked why she was “hurrying,” then said her car’s high beams were on, though he did not say whether that was a driving violation. He peppered her with questions about her immigration status, leaving her convinced that she was stopped merely because of her ethnicity.
These are just two of thousands of complaints received by a coalition -- including the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, and Southern Poverty Law Center -- that challenged the laws in Alabama and other states. The lawsuits were largely based on the constitutional principle later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that federal government has supreme authority over immigration law and enforcement, not the states.
For years, police chiefs and major law enforcement associations, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, have rejected political efforts to turn local police into immigration enforcers, recognizing that the federal government has the responsibility to make and enforce immigration law.
The American people want an immigration system that moves our country forward, not retreads of old ideas that plant us firmly in the past. Members of the House Judiciary Committee have an historic opportunity before them. They should not squander it by supporting this misguided bill.
Tumlin is managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee on this legislation earlier today, June 13.