Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Talking Points for Opposing Louisiana Immigration Legislation

If anyone wants some talking points to craft a sensible argument to your Louisiana legislators in opposition to the slate of illegal immigration bills, here are some for you that I have been developing as I have thought more about them and have talked to people about them:

HB 25 (Requires that local police officers verify immigration status upon arrest.)
(1) Mixing jurisdictions is a recipe for more confusion (and hence even greater lethargy and inactivity) with regard to exercising responsible authority for enforcing immigration legislation. Proponents of this legislation often argue that this bill is necessary because federal immigration authorities aren't doing anything about the problem, they're tired of this, and so they're taking things into their own hands. All fine and good, but what these folks forget in their heated passion over this issue is that muddying the water with even more legislation will no doubt cause more problems than it solves. When federal immigration authorities begin to think that they don't have to be so vigilant because now local police officers are also on the job, then policing entry points can become even more lax. In fact, some of these immigration authorities might even presume that once illegal immigrants get through the nets at the border, then the problem is no longer theirs, but rather a problem for state and local law enforcement authorities. On the flip side, local law enforcement officers, knowing that there is a body of federal law and federal immigration authorities still responsible for enforcing such laws, are likely only to take their responsibilities under HB 25 just up to the obligations of the law, and not beyond it, trusting federal immigration authorities to take over from there. In other words, local police who actually check immigration status upon arrest and discover undocumented migrants will simply then call the federal immigration authorities to follow through on their own end; but such federal authorities may see the usurpation of their jobs by local legislatures as a way to place the burden of follow-up on the local law enforcement agencies themselves.
(2) Actually mandating local law enforcement officers to check immigration status upon arrest will no doubt be a disincentive for undocumented immigrants to report crimes against them. We know that these crimes can be pretty heinous, too. Criminals who know that one of the outcomes of this legislation is to make undocumented immigrants easier targets of their predations with minimal risk to them in terms of being caught will begin to act more brashly by engaging in criminal activities in neighborhoods where the criminals think illegal immigrants (or "walking ATMs" as these criminals have begun to speak of such migrant workers) are likely to be working or living. Unreported crimes and an increase in criminal activity likely to occur as a result in this legislation makes our neighborhoods less safe for all of us "legal" citizens, too. When you hear that thugs broke into the house next door and maybe killed your migrant neighbor in a robbery attempt, that news will be very unsettling regardless of whether these migrant neighbors are documented or undocumented. And God forbid you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and perhaps get caught up in the crossfires of such criminal behavior, or even become "confused" by thugs as a one of these "walking ATMs" yourself. We want all people walking the streets of our community feeling comfortable enough with our local police such that they report crimes and thus help get the real criminals off the streets, instead of not reporting crimes and emboldening the real criminals to more and worse crimes.

HB 1357 (makes it a crime for an individual to knowingly harbor/shelter/conceal an illegal immigrant) and HB 1358 (makes it a crime for an individual to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant)
(1) What is the intent of these bills? The answer given by proponents of these bills is a vague notion of "doing something" about the illegal immigration problem. However, the specific intent of these bills, when you read them, is to target individual law-abiding citizens with criminal wrongdoing. Advocates for these bills provide no evidence that these bills will actually reduce illegal immigration. And there's no guarantee that they will. What is certain is that the only people being punished by these specific bills will be decent, law-abiding U.S. citizens. So, the real intent of these bills is to play on the sensibilities of law-abiding citizens and to actually frighten such citizens with the prospect of criminal sanctions for simply dealing with undocumented migrants that might involve transporting them or harboring/sheltering/concealing them. The legislation neither defines what it means by "transporting" nor does it define what it means by "harboring/sheltering/concealing" them. Because of the lack of clear definitions of these terms, this raises the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to police their fellow neighbor citizens who they may suspect are violating these laws. In other words, could someone be considered guilty of "concealing" illegal immigrants if he knows that a neighboring property owner has leased out the house next door to undocumented migrants, but then fails to report this to the authorities?
(2) This legislation forces upon law-abiding citizens the anxiety of possibility having to decide between (A) carrying out a morally correct act of humanitarian assistance or (B) breaking the law in doing so. In other words, this legislation places two "moral goods" in opposition to one another and damages an individual's conscience (not to mention actually threatens punitive action by the state) who actually does both! Think of it this way: a person who knowingly transports or gives shelter to an undocumented migrant, even if for humanitarian reasons, has to suffer the moral and psychological damage that comes with being a lawbreaker himself simply for doing this humanitarian act. Someone might break the law to help an undocumented migrant, but that someone, whether or not he gets caught doing so, has to then live with the knowledge of himself as a lawbreaker as defined by the state. That is no small matter for an individual who places a high moral and psychological value on being a law-abiding citizen. On the flip side, a good, law-abiding citizen who obeys the law and refuses to transport or provide shelter to an undocumented migrant when humanitarian grounds would warrant it, has to then suffer the moral and psychological damage that comes with failing to live up to the moral imperative to help a fellow human being in need. Someone might uphold the law out of a sense of moral duty to be a law-abiding citizen, but that someone has to then live with the knowledge of himself as the "bad samaritan." That is no small matter for an individual who places a high value (and perhaps even a moral imperative) on the obligation to do good to others, especially those in need. So the talking point here is that this legislation intentionally seeks to damage the moral conscience of a good, decent, law-abiding citizen under any circumstances when dealing with an undocumented migrant.
(3) If the intent of these bills is to prevent the immoral trafficking in humans, as some of these proponents argue and which all of us would support, then the legislation should be more specific in identifying this kind of behavior as the targeted criminal behavior. The fact that the legislation is intentionally unspecific in this regard belies the notion that the real purpose of the legislation is not only about preventing illegal human trafficking, but also about preventing other, more mundane forms of interaction with undocumented migrants.

HB 1365 (which criminalizes renting a house or an apartment to an undocumented migrant)
(1) This legislation sets landlords, realtors, and property owners up for potential litigation under the Fair Housing Act, "which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status." Even whether or not a landlord, realtor, or property owner would prevail in such a lawsuit, simply having to defend himself against such charges is a burden placed on this individual or realty company by the state through this legislation that requires what could be considered discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
(2) The verification of citizenship or legal immigration status is not a common practice among individual landlords, realtors, or property owners, who are untrained to determine what documentation constitutes acceptable proof of such things. This places a law enforcement burden on such individuals or realty businesses that they should not have to assume, for which they are unprepared, and which may place them at some legal risk. Also, for this reason, this legislation is essentially unenforceable. For instance, how will landlords, realtors, and property owners be trained to serve as such immigration law enforcement officers? Who will assure this training is provided to landlords, realtors, and property owners? Is accepting a driver's license from another state a valid good-faith effort to determine citizenship or immigration status? Is looking at a passport acceptable? Is it acceptable to ask for these documents only based upon a particular profile, or is it required of landlords, realtors, or property owners in the law for ALL circumstances? These are issues that the legislation doesn't address.
(3) Why is it acceptable for other businesses to sell (or lease) goods and services and survival commodities like food to indviduals without requiring proof of citizenship or legal immigration status, but not for businesses who sell (or lease) the survival commodity of housing? It appears that there is an inequity in this legislation which penalizes and targets one set of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants but which gives a pass to other sets of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants.
These are just some of the arguments one might put forth in crafting an opposition to these legislative bills. Of course, none of these arguments implies that nothing should be done to address the problem of illegal immigration, but simply that these particular measures are certainly neither the moral nor the practicable ways of doing so.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

thanks for this, jimmy.