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Hispanics in southern Indiana fear bill targeting undocumented immigrants

March 28, 2011

Story courtesy: Louisville Courier Journal

                    Hispanics in southern Indiana fear bill targeting undocumented immigrants

Raul Avila’s family has run a Mexican grocery and restaurant in Clarksville for the past five years, building a livelihood on supplying familiar foods and brands to the area’s many Hispanics.

But Avila worries his family could lose that business if the Indiana legislature passes a bill requiring police to verify the citizenship or immigration status of people they stop and suspect may be illegal immigrants.

Such a law would “really affect all the Hispanic business,” he predicted, by driving many Hispanics from Southern Indiana and keeping many who live in Louisville from crossing the river. Those who lack some of their immigration documents would fear deportation, he said, while legal immigrants would resent the possibility of being stopped and questioned simply because of their ethnicity or inability to speak English well.

The bill says a police officer who stops someone for traffic or other violations and has “reasonable suspicion” they are illegal aliens can ask for proof they are legal residents.

“A lot of people are talking about” moving, said Avila, who added that his family has delayed opening another store because of fears about how the bill might affect sales.

They are not alone in their concerns. Business and civic officials throughout Indiana said they fear the legislation, Senate Bill 590, would halt the economic and population gains Hispanics have brought to the state over the past decade — and perhaps drive them into bordering states, like Kentucky.

The bill, authored by Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel, would require that a person who is stopped by police for traffic or other violations and is suspected of being an illegal immigrant present a valid Indiana driver’s license or a valid state or federal photo identification — which can’t be obtained without proof of legal residence. If they don’t have such a document, their status would be checked with immigration authorities, and deportation could follow.

The bill says a police officer may ask for documents if he has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally, but it does not define what those suspicions might be.

Delph said in telephone interviews that his bill — which has been approved by the state Senate and is awaiting action in the House — supports “the rule of law,” and he isn’t convinced it would have a significant impact on local businesses. The measure is similar to a law passed last year in Arizona that requires police officers to determine a stopped person’s immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion to believe the person is an illegal immigrant.

That law, now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, has hurt tourism and conferences in Arizona, according to business groups in the state and outside analysts. For instance, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association said it lost $15 million in revenue in the first four months after the law’s passage because it prompted the cancellation of many meetings and tourist visits. An economic analysis commissioned by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, estimated that Arizona will lose $86 million in wages over the next two or three years because of cancellations of meetings and conferences by people put off by what they view as anti-immigrant legislation.

Based on such effects in Arizona, Delph’s bill, “will take Indiana in exactly the wrong direction,” said Angela Kelley, a vice president with the center, which opposes such legislation.

George Raymond, a vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which also opposes the bill, said it could deter businesses from relocating to this state, especially if they have many foreign-born workers.

“It’s not just those who are here illegally” who are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police if the legislation passes, Raymond said, “but those here legally. They’re in the same boat. Police don’t know” who has immigration documents.

Matt Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said his association opposes the legislation because it is an “unfunded mandate” that would potentially lead to investigations and imprisonment without providing money to help local governments bear the costs. He said he also is concerned about a requirement in the bill that calls for most public signs to be written only in English, saying that could hurt Hispanic residents in courts or in other public places.

But Delph said illegal immigration already is impacting state and local governments, including the Indiana Department of Corrections, which he said spends $10 million a year housing illegal immigrants.

“I support legal immigration,” he said. “I oppose illegal immigration.”

Delph said he has gotten strong support for the legislation in town-hall meetings with “ordinary” citizens — some of whom are immigrants themselves.

Theresa Musgrave, who moved to Indiana from Great Britain in 1995, said in a telephone interview that she attended a town hall meeting sponsored by Delph earlier this year to urge passage of the legislation. She said she the effort and incurred the expense of becoming and remaining a legal resident, and others should too.

Musgrave added that her husband is a police officer, and she thinks the law would prompt many illegal aliens to leave Indiana, reducing the risks that officers might face from someone who resists being stopped and questioned.

Delph said he’s optimistic about the legislation’s chances of passage this year once Democrats return to Indianapolis and the House can resume its work.

“This issue will be alive and well and in play until we sine die (are dismissed) or adjourn,” Delph said Friday.
Growth in Southern Indiana

Mario Laso, a Southern Indiana banker, said Delph’s legislation threatens to squelch the population and economic growth Hispanics have brought to the region.

U.S. Census data show that Hispanics accounted for 43 percent of Indiana’s total population gain from 2000 to 2010, or 175,171 people. In Southern Indiana, the Hispanic population grew by 155 percent in Floyd County to 1,972, by 197 percent in Clark County to 5,350, and by 76 percent in Harrison County to 581.

In Clarksville, where Avila’s Mexico Lindo grocery is among a number of Hispanic businesses that have opened along Eastern Boulevard, the boom has been significant. More than 9 percent of the town’s population — or 2,056 residents — were Hispanic in 2010, compared to less than 3 percent in 2000, the U.S. Census says. Without the Hispanic growth, Clarksville’s population would have declined by 133 people, according to census figures.

Laso said many Mexican immigrants initially came to the area because they could find work in construction. That influx nurtured Hispanic businesses, including small bakeries, groceries and restaurants.

“I see the borrowing and how much the people bring to the community,” Laso said, adding that while many immigrants “don’t make much money,” they “save it and they spend” it on items they need — and on starting businesses.

Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said Southern Indiana’s economy would feel an immediate and significant impact if Delph’s bill prompts Hispanics to leave. Fewer consumers and workers mean fewer residents to help pay the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the population ages, he said.

Uric Dufrene, a business professor at Indiana University Southeast, agreed. “If we want to be competitive we must have a growing population, and Hispanics can contribute to that growing population,” he said.

Southern Indiana’s loss could be Kentucky’s gain, if Hispanic workers move their labor, purchasing power and tax payments across the river, he said.

Some view that possibility as ironic, given that the Kentucky General Assembly defeated a bill that, like Delph’s legislation, would have required police officers to verify the immigration status of someone they stopped for a traffic citation or other violation and suspected of being an “unauthorized alien.”

The 2010 U.S. Census says Kentucky’s Hispanic population grew 122 percent in the last decade to 132,836, with 32,542 in Louisville — about 4 percent of the city’s population.

The immigration legislation in Kentucky was proposed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union and was supported by Senate President Roy Williams, R-Burkesville, who has said it was needed because the federal government wasn’t acting on the issue. The legislation died in a House committee.

In Indiana, Delph’s bill is awaiting action by the House, and Geller said its likelihood of passage depends in part on the timing of an impasse with House Democrats, who have been boycotting the session since Feb. 21 to deny the majority Republicans a quorum for their legislative agenda.

Tory Flynn, spokesperson for the Indiana House Republicans, said Delph’s bill has been handed to the House Public Policy Committee, which may hold informal hearings this week )— official hearings can only be held if Democrats return.

“Absolutely it is possible” that action could still be taken on the bill this session, Flynn said.

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