By Valeria Pedroza
The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which has been proposed by U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.) and Immigration Subcommittee Chair Trey Gowdy (R–S.C.), threatens to harm the lives of immigrants and those who support them. Not only would this bill make it illegal to be undocumented in the United States, it would also pave the way for increased indefinite detention of immigrants, as well as granting state and local governments the authority to make their own rules in regard to immigration. In addition, this bill would criminalize association with the undocumented.
What does this mean for those of us with friends and family who are undocumented? Are we to exclude them from our lives altogether?
Quite the opposite of comprehensive immigration reform, this bill would create an environment of racial profiling and discrimination. Local and state authorities will now have their already thinly stretched resources forced to include the duties, essentially, of immigration officers. The result would be more separations of families and an increased distrust of authorities.
To gain an understanding of the detrimental effect this can have on our communities, we can look at the effects Arizona’s discriminatory law SB 1070 had, which was found to be almost entirely unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last July. The increase in racial profiling in the “show me your papers” law led to an uproar in immigrant communities, as well as among those who support immigrant rights. Simply by “looking” to be an immigrant, officers were questioning and detaining people and demanding they provide proof of citizenship, or be deported.
If the SAFE Act were to become law, this same authority would be granted on a state-to-state basis, and each state would then have the discretion to decide how it chooses to handle these new restrictions.
Many have argued that by simply giving someone who is undocumented a ride to school or work (because until AB 60 passes into law in January 2015, most undocumented immigrants cannot apply for a driver’s license) they too can be penalized. Therefore, if an immigrant cannot drive his or herself to school or work and cannot be given a ride even by a citizen, how is he or she supposed to be a productive member of society? Anyone wishing to help transport undocumented immigrants to places where they can find resources or medical assistance will now have to travel with the fear of being caught being a Good Samaritan!
If this bill were to become law, Republicans will likely find an even greater chasm between themselves and immigrant supporters of all races. At a time when most polls find that Americans are becoming more and more supportive of comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, it may be impossible for conservatives to backpedal after this.
Anyone wishing to voice their opinion on this bill is urged to call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to be connected with their representative. Bear in mind, however, that a call to this number revealed that all services will only be given in English. When asked if there was another phone number that might help those who speak another language, the operator replied that there was none and all callers would need to either speak English or have the assistance of someone who does. Again, another example of why we need to garner more support for our immigrant brothers and sisters.
Valeria Pedroza is the secretary of POWER at Fresno State and a community activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.