The federal government has traditionally handled both establishing and enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. Since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has had authority over immigration enforcement. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes applications and petitions for visas, green cards, naturalization, and other benefits. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigates individuals they suspect of being present in the United States without proper documentation, or “illegally” as some might say. Article I of the U.S. Constitution places authority over laws affecting citizenship and “aliens” squarely in the federal government’s jurisdiction. More and more state governments, however are passing their own laws regarding enforcement of immigration laws. These state laws could conflict with federal law, cause civil rights violations, and have many other unforeseen consequences affecting immigrants and citizens alike.
A bill introduced in Missouri by Republican State Senator Will Kraus would expand immigration enforcement beyond just local law enforcement. Under the bill, school officials would also be required to check their students’ immigration status. State and local police would be required, during stops, to check immigration status if there is “reasonable cause.” Failure to carry documentation of immigration status or citizenship would also be punishable as a misdemeanor.
The bill is similar to laws passed in the last few years in Arizona and Alabama. These laws make state and local law enforcement responsible for verifying immigration status of people stopped or arrested, and in some cases the laws might even allow police to stop a person based solely on suspicion of some immigration violation. Federal courts have blocked enforcement of some parts of the laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Arizona’s law later this year. Still, the mere passage of these laws has had a profound impact on immigrant populations in both states, and that impact has affected everybody else.
Senator Kraus has explained that his bill is part of an effort to calculate the cost to Missouri of efforts by the state government and local governments to enforce federal immigration laws. He has previously tried to get the state Attorney General to sue the federal government to recover the state’s expenses incurred in immigration enforcement. He claims that the bill is not intended to prevent immigrant children from attending school. A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of children, no mater what their immigration status may be, to attend public school. The bill’s requirement that school officials check students’ immigration status is allegedly part of a bigger plan to enable the Missouri Board of Education to calculate the cost of educating undocumented students.
Whatever the motives behind the Missouri bill, it has the potential to open the door to extensive racial profiling and even harassment of both immigrants and citizens. Federal immigration law is broad and complex, and regulations change frequently. Putting local officials who may not have extensive and ongoing training in the immigration system could create significant problems. Similar laws in other states have produced concerns that law enforcement could detain people simply for not looking “American” in some circumstances. This would undoubtedly create more problems than the bill could possibly solve.
The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
More Blog Posts:
Bill Seeks to Expand Immigration of Highly-Skilled Workers, but Causes Controversy, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 24, 2012
USCIS Plans to Expand Its “Self Check” Program Nationwide, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 29, 2011
Controversial Arizona Immigration Law is Supreme Court-Bound, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 20, 2011
Photo credit: Empty Classroom Desk by Bubbels on stock.xchng.