Amidst some of the hottest controversy on immigration our nation has seen since the filibuster showdown of the DREAM Act in the Lame Duck session of 2010, the House of Representatives has put together the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act," or the "SAFE Act." Because Speaker Boehner (R-OH) refuses to bring the Senate Gang of 8 bill to the floor of the House, it has fallen to the House to attempt to write immigration legislation which will satisfy the calls of the public: this has been the hottest legislative issue since the post-Sandy Hook gun regulation debate and vote, and will not just disappear. So far, the only significant legislation the Republican-controlled House has managed to scrape together in the SAFE Act is a bill which will almost certainly fail, and contains some of the most controversial, racially-charged policies designed to increase deportations built into it.
The largest controversy behind the legislation is Section 102:
"States, or political subdivisions of States [localities], may enact, implement and enforce criminal penalties that penalize the same conduct that is prohibited in the criminal provisions of immigration laws (as defined in section 101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(17))), as long as the criminal penalties do not exceed the relevant Federal criminal penalties."
This would mean even towns and cities could pass their own immigration legislation and encourages every state to enact it's own SB 1070, as well as a host of other laws implicating immigration.
In the not so distant past of 2012, SB 1070, Arizona's "Papers Please" law was challenged and made it to the Supreme Court. This law allowed local police in Arizona to check immigration status if they had suspicions someone was undocumented. SB 1070, while it was argued in court, turned into much more of a national affair after Mitt Romney pushed for it during the campaign. This was one of the three most toxic subjects to Latino voters alongside "Self-Deportation" and a promised veto of the DREAM Act.
The SAFE Act does not occur in a vacuum: there has been serious relitigation in Republican state legislatures over what was recently considered settled policy in issues of extreme controversy. This has ranged from restrictive, exclusive voter ID requirements previously rejected for racial animus in Texas within hours of the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, to women's reproductive health with "trap laws" (incredibly elaborate and impossible to comply with regulatory schemes) in states like Mississippi to shut down as many women's health clinics as possible.
If the states were given the go ahead on enacting their own immigration legislation, there is no reason to believe that Republican legislatures would not run with the furthest-right legislation they could reasonably enact. This would lead to each state, or even each county and city within a state, selectively adopting part of our "broken" immigration system on a political basis. This would further compound the system by adding several new layers to an already confusing and unmanageable regulatory scheme which would treat immigrants differently if they drove down the street for 20 minutes to a different county or city.
One of the striking consequences of similar legislation to have local and state police enforce immigration law is the incredibly disproportionate affect this has on women, children and families. For example, Secure Communities (SComm) is another policy where local police get involved in immigration. Under SComm, local law enforcement can run fingerprints through an ICE database and then potentially send anyone without legal status to a deportation center. The arrest which initiates this could be for something as simple as smoking marijuana, or arguing with a police officer until he comes to the subjective decision to make a "disorderly person" arrest.
At a "Women Against SComm" demonstration, San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim said "Crimes involving domestic violence, sexual assault and forced labor are already severely underreported in our immigrant communities; the last thing we need to do is to further chill the willingness of anyone to come forward to seek and obtain and provide help." She was joined by Beverly Upton, Executive Director of Domestic Violence Consortium: "If you are a victim or a survivor of domestic violence and you call the police, you do not want to end up deported, you do not want to end up separated from your children, you do not want your children to be left with your violent partner while you are in a detention center [on the other side of the U.S.]. This is what survivors of domestic violence are facing as long as Secure Communities is [in force]."
The Republican Party struggles to reform its image amongst Latinos, immigrants and women. Bills being proposed and pushed nearly exclusively by Republicans which are harmful to victims of domestic or sexual violence, racially discriminatory and increase deportations are not the way to proceed. This is not particularly surprising though: they were, after all, the party which fought tooth and nail against the Violence Against Women Act. Even if this agenda is being pushed mostly by the Louie Gohmerts (R-TX), Michelle Bachmanns (R-MN) and Steve Kings (R-IA) of the GOP who drag every bill as far right as possible to please their safe, skillfully gerrymandered districts, this is poison for the entire party, and forces me to look forward to a day when the House is reasonable enough to have an adult conversation again.