Immigration law demands status checks, bans sanctuary cities

Immigration advocates oppose the law, calling it discriminatory.
Katie Currid / Graphic Designer

Several laws regarding illegal immigration that passed during last session of the Missouri legislature have taken effect this year.

One provision taking effect this year declares cities would be ineligible for state grant money if they adopt laws that limit police from passing on the immigration statuses of arrested suspects.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the new provisions, especially those pertaining to sanctuary cities, are valid and all cities should not shield the status immigrants who have been arrested.

"I think that they should notify the immigration authorities," Schaefer said. "Certainly I don't think cities and municipalities should be obstructing the work of the federal governments."

Jennifer Rafanan, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates executive director, said the broadness of the laws, especially the provision concerning sanctuary cities, has made immigrants more fearful of law enforcement and law enforcement more aggressive in policing immigrants. She said her office has already seen complaints from immigrants who have been the target of abuse.

"We've already been seeing some of the effects of the law on the community in terms of racial profiling and a real sense of fear that comes from not everyone knowing what the law exactly says," Rafanan said.

The law also states public employers and all private businesses that have contracts with the state greater than $5,000 must use the federal E-Verify database to screen new employees. Employers who are found to have hired an illegal immigrant without using the E-Verify system would lose their contract with the state.

That provision is particularly controversial because the E-Verify system has been criticized for the number of errors made in such checks at the federal level. The system matches social security numbers, so workers who either do not have a social security number or even those whose numbers are incorrectly entered due to clerical error come back as mismatches, no different from actual illegal immigrants.

"I think especially in this economy, we'll see how those requirements affect companies trying to get contracts," Rafanan said. "We also have a new administration at the federal level and so we might see changes in how they enforce immigration laws."

Columbia attorney George Batek, who has spoken frequently on immigration issues in the state, said the legislature knew when it passed the law that it would unfairly target Hispanic immigrants as opposed to Europeans.

Batek said the law has little oversight over those who enforce it to make sure all immigrants are subject to the same standard. Without such oversight, he said, the law could be abused by the biases of police officers or employers.

"You can easily pass a law purporting it to be fair that you know is going to have a disparate impact on people of the minority," Batek said. "But you can't claim to have clean hands when you pass that law."

He said the laws must be universally applied, but he is not optimistic local authorities will be able to do so.

"The only way to fairly apply these laws is to get everyone you pull over and run them through the system, but I think we know that isn't going to happen," he said.

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