Indiana Immigration: Hoosier Neighbor?

By Betsy Shirley 02-14-2011

I love Indiana. I love driving through cornfields, playing Euchre, and getting swept up in basketball-mania. I come from a proud line of Hoosiers who faithfully watch the Indianapolis 500 and can sing all the verses to "Back Home Again in Indiana." I've even gotten misty-eyed at the end of the movie Hoosiers.

But I don't love the bill approved last week by Indiana's Senate committee. Modeled after Arizona's SB 1070 law, this legislation would require Indiana state police to ask anyone who arouses "reasonable suspicion" of being in the United States illegally for proof that he or she is a legal resident of the U.S. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In addition, the legislation would enforce an English-only policy on government documents, hearings, and websites. It would also punish businesses employing non-sanctioned workers and would prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition to attend Indiana universities.

And sadly, Indiana's not alone. Copy-cat bills of Arizona's immigration laws have been proposed in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas.

Thankfully, a number of Hoosiers have spoken out against the bill. In a statement released last week, Indiana Congressman Andre Carson labeled the bill "ill advised," and voiced his support for provisions like the DREAM Act which grants citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who complete college degrees or serve in the military. According to Carson, we must continue to reform immigration policies "in a way that ensures our country will continue to attract the best and brightest from all over the world."

Others oppose the inevitable racial profiling the bill would cause. In his testimony before the Senate committee, Indianapolis-area Superior Court Judge Jose Salinas reminded committee members that they've never experienced what it's like to have to prove their citizenship. "You're never going to be posed that question; let's be honest about that," said Salinas, who is a U.S. citizen, "I will. I have been in the past."

Still others oppose the bill because it would cost tax-payers too much to enforce or because they believe it is a federal issue that shouldn't be left up to the states. A DreamActivist.org petition my friend linked to on his Facebook page opposes the "anti-immigrant rhetoric" of the Indiana bill that "criminalizes immigrants" and "will bring fear and distrust in the immigrant community."

And I think these are all great reasons to oppose the bill. But for me, it all comes down to something much simpler: immigrants -- documented or not -- are our neighbors. Whether they speak English or Spanish, immigrants are people created in the image of God, people we are called to love. Instead of criminalizing and deporting our neighbors, we need immigration policies that embody gospel hospitality, embracing those among us who are most vulnerable and welcoming them into our society.

I love the Hoosier state, but I'm also trying to love my neighbors. Indiana, I hope you do the same.

portrait-betsy-shirleyBetsy Shirley is an editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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