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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Issue of the Week: Unconstitutional ALEC-Written Immigration Bill Rebuked

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The dangerous agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was partially rebuked by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, when the justices decided that three of four contested portions of an Arizona immigration law were unconstitutional. The most controversial part of the bill—the “show me your papers” mandate—is intact but is hanging by a thread.

Those familiar with ALEC's antics know that the alleged free-market think tank promotes a for-profit corporate agenda by pairing state legislators with conservative corporate representatives to write “model legislation” that is introduced in statehouses throughout the country. Arizona's immigration law, known as SB 1070, is one such law. According to investigations by NPR and the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the bill was written with the blessing of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the for-profit bail bond industry. These entities stand to gain from the increased detention of immigrants, since it would be a way to boost revenues.

Unfortunately for these corporations, their legislation is unconstitutional because the justices ruled that state law cannot trump federal immigration law and state law enforcement cannot do the work of federal immigration agents.

That said, we cannot breathe a sigh of relief now that the majority of the justices have pushed back against ALEC's agenda.

First off, the “show me your papers” portion remains for now. But the justices opened the door to legal challenges based on evidence of racial profiling. Since the law hasn't been implemented, there's no evidence to present right now. When it does go into effect, we'll see whether local law enforcement officers are using the law to harass and detain people who just don't look sufficiently “American.”

Another reason to worry is that the fingerprints of the ALEC bill can be found in other state laws around the country. In Wisconsin, state Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford), a member of ALEC, has authored a bill that CMD has argued is influenced by the same ALEC model legislation that supported Arizona's now largely unconstitutional law. Pridemore's bill requires local law enforcement to obtain someone's proof of lawful residency once that person has been arrested—not convicted of a crime, but arrested. If the person under arrest cannot produce that information as soon as he or she is arrested or charged with a crime, that person “may be held in secured custody for up to 48 hours to allow the person to obtain documentation of his or her lawful presence.” If that documentation doesn't materialize, law enforcement “must” transport that person to a federal immigration or border patrol agency.

Pridemore's bill states that officers may not consider a person's race, color or national origin when asking for identification and that local law enforcement must get the authorization of the feds to verify the person's lawful presence.

But these “protections” are pretty shaky.

Pridemore's bill contains provisions that sound dangerously close to the portions of Arizona's ALEC-written bill that were declared unconstitutional.

His bill didn't get a committee hearing in the last legislative session.

For the sake of our state, and the health of our constitution and communities, let's hope that un-American bills like this don't see the light of day in the next session.