February 3, 2006

Immigration bill threatens families, children

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Immigrants living and working in Indiana may face additional hardships if House Bill 1383, an immigration bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly, becomes law.

The bill, authored by State Rep. Eric Turner (R-Marion), would prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance, benefits for publicly funded health care, or health care services from publicly funded hospitals or health facilities. Schools would be required to check a student’s immigration status before admitting them and to deny school admittance to those children who are not American citizens. The bill also makes immigration forgery a Class C felony punishable by a two- to eight-year prison term.

“We should not reward illegal behavior by providing public assistance to illegal aliens,” said Rep. Turner. “Providing public service benefits to illegal aliens is simply endorsing illegal behavior.”

The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the Church’s official representative in the state legislature, testified in opposition to the bill during a Jan. 24 hearing before the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security at the Statehouse.

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director, said, “While the Church does not encourage illegal immigration, the Church sees some rights as inherent in the human condition which extend beyond all national boundaries. The undocumented residents, aliens as the bill calls them, have natural rights from their inherent dignity as persons, each created in the image and likeness of God. These rights include all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life—food, clothing, housing and education.”

Despite an overwhelming majority of groups testifying in opposition to the bill, the committee members approved House Bill 1383 by a 7-3 vote.

Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis), a member of the committee who voted against the bill, said, “The essence of my opposition to this bill stems from Matthew’s Gospel. In it, Jesus relates a story of the stranger who came and needed food, drink or a place to stay. How was the stranger treated? His message was ‘Those who take care of the least, take care of me.’ This is how we are to treat those from our immigrant community.”

Lindsey Mintz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), also testified in opposition to the bill. A letter to state representatives outlining the JCRC’s position states, “House Bill 1383 contains alarming language that recruits law enforcement officials, health care providers and educators to engage in activities which indicate a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach. . . . Such activity contradicts American history, culture and values. Further, it seeks to force educators and health care providers into inappropriate roles, distorting the very ideals of those professions and, in the process, treating undocumented persons unfairly.”

Franciscan Father Tom Fox, Hispanic ministry assistant for the archdiocese, who testified in opposition to the bill, told lawmakers, “As a Catholic priest, I do not have children. However, I wish to speak on behalf of children. Anyone who works with immigrants, as I have for 12½ years, knows that the doctor of the poor is the hospital emergency room. Poor people cannot afford a family physician.

“So, according to this bill, parents must wait until their child gets sicker and sicker until they are in danger of death. Then you would finally allow them to be cared for,” Father Tom said.

Debbie Schmidt, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, said the impact this legislation would have upon the agency would likely result in more requests for assistance.

“The demands for financial assistance have already increased drastically over the last two years due to rising fuel and utility costs,” Schmidt said.

Bob Morr, vice president for the Indiana Hospitals and Health Association, said, “We see no reasonable merit in House Bill 1383 from a health care perspective. The general language of the bill suggests that health care providers would have the additional role of running immigration checks. This is an exceedingly unreasonable burden to have to screen a person for their legal status prior to provision of services.”

Benedictine Sister Karen Durliat of the Guadalupe Center in Huntingburg, Ind., a ministry of the Evansville Diocese which serves the Hispanic community, said her biggest concern is that police will be asked to act as immigration agents.

“The Guadalupe Center sponsors meetings with the Hispanic community and the police so that they get to know each other, and so the Hispanic community knows that the police are here to help them,” Sister Karen said. “If this bill passes, what will happen in situations where the police are needed? Who will an undocumented person turn to for help?”

Fifteen states are currently working on legislation to address undocumented immigrants. They are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Indiana.

House Bill 1383 now moves to the House floor for further consideration. Bills must pass their house of origin by Feb. 3 to be eligible for passage this year.

In other legislative news, House Bill 1310—an ICC-supported bill written to grant undocumented immigrants a driving certificate—died in the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security by a 6-to-6 tie. It is unlikely to be reconsidered this year.

(Bridget Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)


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