On Feb. 26, state Rep. Dave Agema (R—Grandville) introduced a bill that will undermine future prospects for Michigan’s next generation. Nearly identical to Arizona’s notorious immigration law, House Bill 4305 threatens to undercut Michigan’s economic recovery by imposing enforcement requirements that will bog down our courts and law enforcement in frivolous lawsuits, harm businesses by deterring legal immigration and do little to combat illegal immigration, much less address the state’s more pressing issues. Michigan youth deserve a better future than the one created by this unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional bill.
Like Arizona’s bill, HB 4305 obligates law enforcement to verify the legal status of anyone who “should reasonably be suspected of being unlawfully present in the United States.” Officers can also arrest “with or without a warrant” anyone they think has committed a crime that could result in their deportation. Finally, the bill would allow residents to file lawsuits against enforcement agencies for not implementing the law “to the full extent permitted.”
This will have critically negative implications for Michigan’s economy and its level of public safety. When Arizona passed its immigration bill, it directly cost them more than $250 million in boycotts and lost tax income from immigrants who left after the bill’s adoption, not to mention the millions it is expected to waste on frivolous lawsuits. In Arizona, the bill has cemented a reputation for reactionary politics that hurt the state’s economy and significantly lowered consumption by driving away immigrants who seek a more welcoming state.
Michigan is already struggling economically, and given its dependence on immigrant businesses, it is as susceptible to economic problems created by anti-immigrant legislation as Arizona. Even Gov. Rick Snyder rightly said in his State of the State address that attracting immigrants is crucial to Michigan’s economic recovery: “Immigration made us a great state and country,” he stated. Passing this bill would be a huge deterrent to future legal immigration and would ultimately hurt business in Michigan. The state is already faced with the problem of a “brain drain” and an aging labor force. This bill would likely exacerbate these problems by associating Michigan with regressive policies that college-educated youth do not support and by driving away immigrant businesses that could create key jobs.
Studies also demonstrate that similar city bills have decreased public safety and put additional strain on police forces. Burdening already over-extended state police with the additional task of enforcing federal immigration law only prevents them from performing what is part of their job description: keeping communities safe. Giving individuals the right to sue police for insufficiently enforcing immigration law leaves police departments in a double-bind: If they enforce the law they will likely be sued for profiling, but not enforcing the law also leaves them vulnerable to lawsuits. This is why police across the country have opposed the unfair burden that bills like this place on law enforcement. Austin, Texas Police Chief Art Acevedo commented that similar immigration bill SB 1070 “will reverse the gains made through long-term efforts to create an environment of trust between the migrant community and law enforcement… (it) will undoubtedly further exacerbate an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.”
Even worse, this legislation will not effectively address the issue of undocumented immigration at the expense of hard-working Michigan citizens, immigrants and youth. To begin with, there are far fewer undocumented immigrants here than in Arizona. According to Federation for American Immigration Reform data from 2008, about 7.5 percent of Arizona’s population is undocumented, while Michigan’s is 2 percent. Additionally, policy studies have demonstrated that the “enforcement by attrition” approach to immigration has negligible, if any, affect on undocumented immigration rates. Thus, this bill threatens to waste millions of dollars on increased lawsuits, create more stress for law enforcement agencies, generate losses in tax revenue from businesses and individuals who leave and endanger the civil rights of American citizens and documented immigrants without solving the issue it claims to address. That means there is no justification for the families torn apart every day by deportations, the fear in immigrant communities from increased policing, the citizens denied jobs or the youth who inherit the terrible consequences of this bill. This is unjust and an ill-thought policy, plain and simple.
Michigan has many difficult problems to deal with, not the least of which include its economic recession and declining labor force. We deserve serious answers to these problems. When this governor and legislators came into office, they promised to deliver solutions. This bill isn’t a serious answer. It scapegoats immigrants and exacerbates our state’s real problems by hurting business, increasing the “brain drain” and distracting law enforcement officials from their job. We deserve state politicians who work for a better future, not ones who undermine it with unwise and unfair legislation like House Bill 4305.
Mary Birkett is an LSA junior. Ewan Compton is an LSA senior.