The federal government has continually failed to address fundamental, structural problems with the country's broken immigration system.
Missouri's leadership hasn't done us any favors either by approving the Illegal Aliens and Immigration Status Verification law. This law does not adequately deal with Congress' failures to provide options for employers to hire legal workers or to keep families together because an "enforcement-only" approach is not a viable solution.
There are three main problems with the new law.
First, the Missouri State Highway Patrol will now be required to designate at least some of its officers for training with the Department of Homeland Security in order to enforce federal immigration laws - a measure which not only redirects already limited law enforcement funding to target minor traffic violations, but also encourages racial profiling, as more motorists are stopped for "Driving While Foreign" violations. Additionally, such agreements instill a mistrust of police within immigrant communities, resulting in increased victimization of immigrants, who are already too afraid to report many crimes or to come forward as witnesses to others.
Second, Missouri municipalities are prohibited from enacting "sanctuary policies" and are denied state funding if they are found to be in violation of this policy. The term "sanctuary policy" is ambiguously defined and a complaint of any state resident can initiate an investigation, which is ultimately decided by the attorney general's opinion. The lack of guidelines coupled with the consequence of withheld state funding make this policy potentially disastrous for municipalities across the state.
Finally, participation in the federal work authorization program E-Verify is required for a broad spectrum of employers. E-Verify is a result of the latest in a growing patchwork of state immigration laws employers are forced to navigate. Many fear that the growing number of regulatory burdens imposed by state laws will drive existing businesses to relocate and deter new businesses from operating in Missouri.
In addition to the added cost of an E-Verify system are the headaches associated with a system that is still very flawed. Missouri is now one of only five states mandating the use of E-Verify (proposals are pending in 13 other states) even though a recent Immigration Policy Center report cited a 4.1 percent error rate in the system. Although these errors can and do affect immigrant workers, many of them involve U.S. citizens. All of them are unacceptable if they keep lawfully authorized immigrants or citizens from working.
The Illegal Aliens and Immigration Status Verification law changed several laws regarding undocumented immigrants and immigration status verification and duplicates several provisions of ineffective federal laws that have already been in place since 1996. It also presents additional challenges to businesses and employers, which will only deter growth in this time of economic uncertainty.
Missouri's new illegal Aliens and Immigration Status Verification law is a mean-spirited and hopelessly flawed approach to immigration reform. The state and federal government must disregard the politics of the issue and come up with a fair and practical solution to our immigration crisis that requires undocumented immigrants to earn legal status and contribute to the American economy and society if they so choose.
Suzanne Brown is the Missouri/Kansas chapter chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.