February 24, 2006

Hoosier lawmakers debate
immigration legislation

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Immigration reform has many different connotations. For some, it means tightening up America’s borders and enforcing deportation of illegal aliens. For others, it means dealing with the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants—45,000 who reside in Indiana—who are living, working and paying taxes in the United States.

The Indiana General Assembly considered and defeated two immigration reform measures this year. House Bill 1383, a bill dealing with the enforcement aspect of immigration reform, would have prohibited an undocumented immigrant from receiving public assistance, benefits for publicly funded health care, or health care services from publicly funded hospitals or health facilities. Schools would have been required to check a student’s immigration status before admittance and deny addmission to those children who are not American citizens.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, said, “The bill was flawed from its premise, and especially in its effects. While part of its purpose was to limit access to assistance, undocumented immigrants already are not eligible. A more problematic provision was the effort to have law enforcement target suspected illegal immigrants for deportation. Many lawmakers realized the harmful and discriminatory effects of the bill, and it was soundly defeated by a 19-to-74 vote in the Indiana House of Representatives.”

Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis) led an effort and floor debate to defeat House Bill 1383, which is one reason the measure was defeated by such a large margin. During the House floor debate, Murphy reminded other lawmakers of their own families’ heritages and histories.

“Many of our own ancestors did not come here legally. Some crossed the border from Canada to the United States,” he said. “If we think all of our ancestors came here legally, we are remembering fairy tales. Thousands came here illegally.”

In reflecting on the reasons why House Bill 1383 failed, Murphy, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, said, “I think House Bill 1383 failed because people were finally made to understand and relate to their own history.”

Another proposal dealing with immigration reform in Indiana, House Bill 1310, would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s certificate.

“The reality of the situation is that undocumented immigrants are living, working and paying taxes in Indiana, but the Real ID act, a federal law, prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license without a Social Security number,” said Murphy, who authored the bill.

Murphy said that House Bill 1310 was defeated in the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security mainly because of fear.

“There is a general fear of a large group of Spanish-speaking persons. This fear is then masked under the veil of terrorism,” he said.

Murphy said that opponents to the bill claimed that terrorists would use such certificates to gain access to places where they could then attempt to harm others.

The Indiana Catholic Conference supported House Bill 1310.

Rep. John Aguilera (D-East Chicago), who authored a similar driving privilege bill, said he thought House Bill 1310 failed because “the opportunity to have a proper discussion” on the issue never happened.

“The discussion on immigration reform is being controlled by extreme groups who only want to talk about enforcement,” said Aguilera. “We have to start dealing with the reality that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living, working and paying taxes.”

Aguilera, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in East Chicago, Ind., in the Gary Diocese, added, “As long as there is a fear and an unwillingness to have an open discussion on these issues, it will be difficult to make significant progress.”

Aguilera said he intends to continue working on this issue through the Interim Study Committee on Homeland Security.

Rep. Suzanne Crouch (R-Evansville), a member of the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security who voted for House Bill 1383 in committee with “serious reservations,” later voted against it on third reading on the House floor.

Crouch opposed House Bill 1310, the driver’s certificate bill.

“I don’t think we should reward illegal behavior, which is what I thought House Bill 1310 would have done if it passed,” said Crouch.

“We have to figure out a way for undocumented immigrants to become legal,” said Crouch. “This is where we should be focusing our attention.”

Crouch, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Daylight, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, added, “Perhaps the state should consider something like the Governor’s Tax Amnesty program for the Hispanic community as a way to help undocumented immigrants become legal without fear of being deported or fined.”

The Hispanic/Latino population in Indiana is currently estimated at 245,500. The 2000 U.S. Census counted more than 214,000 Latinos in the Hoosier State, and that year the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now called the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), estimated that there are 45,000 undocumented immigrant Hoosiers.

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


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