JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Republican-dominated Missouri Legislature is currently debating anti-immigrant bills targeting students, non-English-speaking drivers and the federal government.
Senate Bill 590 would require school administrators to report the immigration status of students and their parents, forcing local schools to assume the role of immigration control, a task of the federal government.
Vanessa Crawford, executive director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) coalition, said, "We can learn a lot about this type of legislation and its potential impact on Missouri residents by how it has impacted Alabama."
"Parents took their kids out of school. Thousands of kids just didn't show up the day after the law was passed in Alabama," Crawford said. "It's a very scary and confusing situation for immigrant families."
"Schools and families are supposed to work together to create a positive, welcoming environment for students," she added. "This type of legislation turns teachers into ICE agents."
Additionally, SB 590 would require local police to ask for proof of papers as a routine part of their jobs, and arrest anyone suspected of being undocumented. Any documented immigrant not carrying their immigration papers could also be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
Opponents of the legislation warn that it will create a climate of fear and racism, encourage racial profiling, cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal battles, have a chilling effect on enrollment of children in public schools, and force teachers and school administrators to single out students due to their perceived immigration status.
According to Crawford, this legislation will also make victims of abuse "much less likely to cooperate with the police."
For example, she said, "A victim of domestic violence may choose to not call the police, as the police will have to ascertain the victim's immigration status instead of addressing the domestic violence issue."
A second bill, HB 1186, would require the state of Missouri to only offer driver's license exams in English without an interpreter. Currently, Missouri offers driver's exams in a dozen languages, and allows applicants to pay for their own state-approved interpreter if they speak a language other than the 12 offered.
HB 1186 would only impact documented immigrants, as Missouri and federal law already prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver's license.
Critics of this legislation argue that more than 150 countries, including the United States, recognize an International Driving Permit without fluency in the language of that country. This legislation would go against national and internationally agreed-upon standards, they say.
Other states with more ethnically diverse populations have rejected English-only driver's exams. A report by the California Department of Motor Vehicles concluded that "fluency in the English language sufficient to take and pass a written exam in English is not indicative of the applicant's ability to drive safely in the public roadways."
A third anti-immigrant bill in the Missouri Legislature, SB 473, would require the state auditor's office to determine the cost of illegal immigration to Missouri taxpayers and then sue the federal government for that money.
Crawford calls this legislation "especially problematic," saying it would promote "increased anti-immigrant sentiment based on a completely false assumption" that immigrants "don't pay in."
"Immigrants, like everybody else, pay property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and contribute to our economy on a daily basis," Crawford said.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010 Missouri had between 35,000 and 75,000 undocumented immigrants. They make up less than 1 percent of Missouri's population of 6 million.
Similar laws passed in Alabama are costing that state nearly $11 billion annually. According to a University of Alabama study, an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 undocumented immigrants have left Alabama, resulting in a $2.3 billion to $10.8 billion reduction in Alabama's GDP. Additionally, the report found that Alabama will lose between $56.7 billion and 264.5 million in reduced state income and sales taxes, and lose between $20 million and $93.1 million in local sales taxes.
While the Missouri state government is still debating the wisdom of these laws, some local governments have already passed anti-immigrant, racist laws by popular vote.
For example, in Springfield, voters just passed Question 1, a law requiring local businesses to verify that new hires are legally eligible to work in the U.S. by checking their status in the controversial E-Verify database.
E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility. But those records are filled with discrepancies
The Greene County Sheriff's Office (Springfield is in Greene County) says that of the 20,000 people who passed through police custody in 2011, only 49 people were held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Opponents of the new law say it is an unenforceable, unfunded mandate, and its constitutionality will be tested in court, forcing Springfield taxpayers to to foot the bill for the extreme, anti-immigrant agenda.
A similar law has been introduced in the Missouri House.
"Regardless of the intent of these laws, we know that their impact will be racial," Crawford said.