JEFFERSON CITY — “License and registration, please.”
Most people who have been pulled over have heard that phrase before. But a proposal in the Missouri Senate could add a third item to that familiar list — license, registration and proof of immigration status.
On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee heard Senate Joint Resolution 18, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cunningham. If passed, SJR 18 would require all law enforcement officers, both state and local, to make reasonable attempts to corroborate the immigration status of any person stopped, detained or arrested if there were “reasonable suspicion” that a person was in the country illegally.
Cunningham said the requirement would help find and deport undocumented immigrants, specifically those who have broken the law.
Critics fear the bill would open the door for more racial profiling.
According to Cunningham, more than 6,000 criminal undocumented immigrants were arrested in 2018 nationally, and 524 of those warrants were for assault, battery and/or violence.
Opponents pointed to other statistics.
“In Missouri, we already have a confirmed problem with racial profiling,” said Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. “We know that a black individual in Missouri is 85 percent more likely to be stopped than a white individual. We know that the Hispanic population is more likely to be searched ... , this is a problem that is being exacerbated by this law.”
The Missouri bill states that an officer cannot “solely consider race color, or national origin” when implementing this statute, but it is unclear how that would be prevented or even monitored. People like Alexis Engelbrecht-Villafane, from Missouri Faith Voices, fear that the proposal could do great harm.
“SJR 18 specifically targets individuals who look or talk in a certain way and facilitates a sense of fear and secrecy rather than openness, collaboration and care,” Engelbrecht-Villafane said. “In looking back through history ... , I can only think of times in which great harm has been done when people who do not look or behave a certain way are targeted by those in power and authority.”
Missouri isn’t the first state to try to pass a law of this nature. The bill echoes parts of Arizona’s 2010 statute which sought to address the growing number of illegal immigrants in their state by implementing a similar “show me your papers” law.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on Arizona’s law and struck down most of the bill because it tried to go beyond what federal law allowed, but the “show me your papers” section was upheld. However, the justices agreed that if the law was being used to target people of a certain group, it would be in violation of equal protection.
“The court held that if discrimination does occur, if we see that individuals are being stopped on the basis of their race or ethnicity, that this law could become a constitutional violation of equal protection. They left the door wide open for further litigation on that,” Baker said.
Others in opposition of the bill included Judith McGrath, a therapist from St. Francis Community Services who works with immigrant families. McGrath said she has been with families this bill would directly impact, and she worries about the potential effects.
“As a therapist, I regularly see how parents’ mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can directly impact their children’s mental and emotional well-being. … Also, we, as an agency, have seen a number families who have experienced the deportation of a parent due to a raid at place of employment,” McGrath said. “As the therapist for the children in these families, I can tell you that those outcomes are not good.”
Additionally, McGrath said the proposal would negatively impact all Missourians, not just immigrant families.
“If we increase anxiety among adults in our communities and cause them to be less inclined to report crimes or serve as witnesses; if we begin to pluck people, law-abiding, tax-paying, church going individuals, and if we pluck them from their lives, from their families, from their work places, sooner or later all Missourians are going to feel the consequences,” McGrath said.
Cunningham disagreed that the proposal would increase racial profiling.
“This bill is very carefully drafted; it’s been Supreme Court -tested,” Cunningham said.
Others on the committee also supported the bill, including Committee Chair Sen. Doug Libla.
“You’ve got a good bill, Senator,” Libla said.
If SJR 18 is passed, it would be put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment for the people of Missouri to vote on.
“This will be put to a vote of the people, and the people will decide,” Cunningham said.