PIERRE – The South Dakota Legislature will join the national debate on illegal immigration this year.
Three bills seeking to crack down on illegal immigrants have been filed in the Legislature, all patterned after measures already proposed or passed in other states.
Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, the prime sponsor of two of the measures, said he wants to protect the public from crimes committed by some who are in the country illegally and make sure immigrants working in South Dakota are doing so legally.
“These people who are here legally are part of our society. I welcome them. They belong here,” Steele said. “I’m glad they’re here. They are helping our economy grow. As far as I’m concerned, they’re needed.”
Steele acknowledged that South Dakota does not have as big of a problem as many other states with illegal immigrants. South Dakota probably only has 2,000 or so illegal immigrants, he said.
However, Steele said two illegal immigrants were convicted of murder last year, and the state will pay $15,000 a year to keep them in prison. He said he believes his bills will treat people fairly and will not lead to racial profiling by law officers.
Opponents disagree, saying the proposed laws are not needed and will violate people’s rights by encouraging racial profiling.
Sam Ellingson, program coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said a proposal similar to an Arizona law will force law officers to give priority to immigration enforcement and give less attention to other public safety problems.
“Laws like these do not make us safer, and in fact have raised the crime rates in areas where similar bills have been passed,” she said.
One of Steele’s proposals, similar to an Arizona law being challenged in court, would direct law officers enforcing other laws to make reasonable attempts to ask about a suspect’s immigration status if there is reason to believe that person is in the U.S. illegally. It also would make it illegal for anyone to transport or conceal an illegal alien or to encourage an illegal alien to come to South Dakota.
Steele’s second bill is part of a national challenge to automatic U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. It is intended to encourage Congress to propose an change to the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the U.S.
The third bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig Tieszen, R- Rapid City, would penalize anyone who knowingly employs, transports or conceals an illegal immigrant.
Steele said the bill requiring law officers to check immigration status during stops for enforcement of other laws has been modified somewhat from the Arizona law. He said he believes it will not lead to racial profiling or discrimination. Officers already check people’s identification during traffic stops, and the bill would allow officers to let people go when it’s not practical to detain them for a lengthy investigation, he said.
However, Ellingson of the ACLU said the organization will oppose Steele’s proposal because it would lead to racial profiling, and that part of the Arizona law has been blocked by a federal judge. Some provisions also would be struck down because they are already covered in federal law, which takes precedence, she said.
Robert Doody, executive director of the ACLU in South Dakota, said the three bills send a message to businesses and workers that South Dakota does not welcome minority families or economic growth. The measures, if passed, would likely lead to costly lawsuits, he said.
Steele said state lawyers have estimated a lawsuit could cost $50,000 to $100,000, which he said is much less than the cost of keeping a lot of illegal immigrants in state prisons after they have been convicted of crimes.
The bill dealing with citizenship seeks to require that a child born in the U.S. is a citizen only if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant. It would create a compact with other states to issue different birth certificates for those who are citizens and those who are not. Such compacts would have to be approved by Congress, but do not require the president’s signature.
Supporters of the proposal contend that the wording of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. who is “subject to jurisdiction” of this country, does not apply to children of illegal immigrants because those families do not owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
Steele said some people enter the U.S. illegally to give birth to children so those babies will get citizenship. He said supporters of the compact hope eventually to persuade Congress to propose a constitutional change.
Ellingson said a compact between the states cannot change the rules on citizenship because state laws cannot change the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s guaranteed in our legal history that we allow citizenship to those who are born in this country,” she said.