Moving Beyond Pointless State Immigration Bills

On Tuesday, March 6th, I had the pleasure of participating in a lobby day at the Missouri state capitol building with the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) and Mobilize Missouri. The whole purpose was to express our displeasure with Missouri’s Senate Bill 590 and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Will Kraus.

It was a beautiful, albeit extremely windy, March day, which is very rare in Missouri (at least the beautiful part). Even so, I cannot think of anything I would rather have been doing. I was able to meet and spend the day with many passionate, hard-working, diverse and motivated people. Together, we were able to speak with state senators and reps about the harmful effects this bill is already having on Missouri and will surely continue to have if passed.

SB590 and similar bills passed in Alabama, Arizona and elsewhere are based on the hypothesis that immigrants are a drain on the state economy, i.e., they do not pay taxes, try to obtain welfare benefits, are more likely to commit crimes, etc.

For example, when we spoke with Senator Kraus, he repeatedly stated the bill was merely an attempt to collect data on the cost of educating undocumented students. His plan is to turn the data over to the feds as proof that undocumented immigration is draining Missouri of resources and the feds need to step up and do something about it.

As framed by Senator Kraus, the idea does not really sound too bad. Almost everyone can agree there are problems associated with undocumented immigration and those with authority to solve those problems are ignoring them. Maybe if someone could collect data demonstrating their magnitude and then shove it in the government’s face, federal politicians would be forced to act.

However, the ideas proposed by Senator Kraus and others focus only on one side of the issue and ignore the fact that immigrants, undocumented and documented, regularly pay sales, property and income taxes, common methods of funding schools and school programs. They ignore the fact that immigrants open businesses, hire employees and participate in their communities.

They especially ignore the costs thrown on state and local governments when the family members of U.S. citizens are removed from the country. Imagine children left behind with no parents or a once strong family unit being reduced to a single mother or father struggling to support children. It would not be a surprise to learn that similar to families broken by drugs, divorce, or death, homes touched by deportation are more likely to turn to the government for support and children left parentless more likely to end up in the foster care system. Conservatives often proclaim that families are the basis of our society, but like spending, they do not seem to hesitate to break families if it meets their political agenda.

Of course, this is not even considering the costs of enforcing SB590 and similar bills, including the training of police officers, teachers and others to collect the precious data the states want to shock the feds with. This is not free, and is just another duty added to already overstretched and underpaid police officers and teachers.

If a state were really interested in getting the federal government’s attention, particularly a politically embattled state like Missouri, it would focus on putting forward a bill that reflects the consensus of what is
needed to solve immigration on the federal.

Such a law would still most likely end up in litigation and it would still cost money. Such is the case with any state immigration bill. Even so, the bill’s sponsors would be able to demonstrate that a real solution can be found and thereby expose the fraud the federal government is perpetrating in its claims of being unable to resolve the issue.

Such a bill would need to be comprehensive. It would need to address issues such as securing our borders, ensuring our companies have the employees they need, figuring out how to integrate the millions who are already here into our society and enhancing the global competitiveness of the United States. Finally, such a bill would need to reflect an understanding that this issue deals with real human beings who have real lives.

Of course, this would be a tremendous challenge. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, have failed to produce anything resembling this in decades of debate. This does not mean it is not worth shooting for. Until someone finally does, the issue will remain with us for decades more and we will be missing the opportunity to take advantage of a ready and willing force of people ready to give back.

Ironically, there is some common ground between activists and the state legislators who introduce and support anti-immigrant bills. I think we fundamentally agree on two things: (1) the immigration system in the U.S. is broken; and (2) the federal government is doing too little too slow to fix it. We may not agree on how it is broken or on what the feds need to do to get things fixed, but we start with the same basic premise.

Finding common ground is the first step to reaching the compromise necessary to solve the problems associated with immigration. It is time to identify common ground and build from there. The solution will not be found in displaying one-sided figures before the federal government or in pointless political rhetoric aimed at like-minded constituents. It will only be found in hard work and compromise, activities far too few of our politicians seem willing to risk engaging in these days.


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