By NYSSA RABINOWITZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – Many immigration-related bills are languishing in House and Senate committees, a fact that could motivate some legal immigrants to leave Michigan, rights advocates say.
“The fear is in every one of the immigrants that are already here,” said Isela Parra, a Grand Rapids chapter member of One Michigan, an activist group whose goal is to increase public awareness about immigration issues.
New laws or rumors of coming laws might be enough to cause some people to move back to their home country, or at least out of Michigan, Parra said.
“It would make families more unstable than they already are,” Parra said.
The pending bills cover a number of topics from reporting couples who don’t put social security numbers on their marriage license application to allowing sheriffs to release inmates to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.
One proposal would require businesses to use an e-verification system to confirm applicants’ legal status before hiring them. Another would impose additional sanctions for employers who knowingly hiring undocumented workers.
And one of the most controversial proposals resembles the recent Arizona law authorizing law enforcement officers to verify legal status if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States,” according to the bill.
Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that legislation would allow police to stop everyone who looks different from the general population and demand proof that they are legally in the country.
That would mean everyone would have to carry proof of legal status with them, he said.
Meadows said the bill also would place unfunded mandates on local police, hurting local government budgets.
Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, one of the cosponsors of the bill, said, “People are very concerned about losing jobs to illegal immigrants. They are taking away people’s jobs and they don’t like that.
“That money should not be going to illegal immigrants, it should be going to Michigan citizens,” Cropsey said. “Those are jobs that Michigan citizens need. That’s the motivation.”
Meadows acknowledged that polls show public support for many anti-immigration proposals.
Parra said, “Honestly, I think a lot of people don’t have enough information or awareness of the reality of the life of the immigrants or why they are here or their purpose or goal. They do what seems right for them but they don’t do research to see why undocumented immigrants are here. They don’t take a risk to support immigrants.”
Teresa Hendricks of the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project in Grand Rapids said that people usually support such legislation because of a fear of immigrants in general.
That reaction can stifle public support for an overhaul of federal immigration laws, she said.
She said the proposed legislation could seriously hurt the state’s agriculture industry because farmers “can’t get local folks to pick their crops.”
If migrant workers were to leave Michigan because of such legislation, the state would lose about $11.2 billion, which is the market value of the crops from the agriculture industry, Hendricks said.
Losing migrant workers would mean that crops wouldn’t get harvested, she said.
Parra said many businesses are owned or run by Hispanics who work long hours at their jobs. Losing them “would make a very big hole in Michigan.”
Critics of such proposals say the sponsors are often motivated by politics.
Meadows said one representative sponsored anti-immigration legislation to gain votes in a primary.
Yet, even with public support, Meadows said it’s unlikely any of the bills will be approved this year and he doesn’t plan any Judiciary Committee hearings on them.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By NYSSA RABINOWITZ