Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | May 1, 2011

Senate Bill 590

The following article of mine was featured in Ball Bearings magazine’s Summer 2011 print issue.  It is a magazine feature piece about Indiana’s Senate Bill 590, which, since this piece’s publication, has passed through the House and gone back to the Senate.  The current bill no longer contains the reasonable suspicion aspect which is talked about in this piece.

Read the story below or at

Senate Bill 590: New Indiana immigration bill continues the national debate
story by: Lauren Hardy

America: the land of the free, home of the brave and an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. Indiana houses as many as
110,000 of those undocumented people, according a 2008 report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

In response to the continued absence of comprehensive immigration reform and growing public concern, many states are taking matters into their own hands.  In 2006, Georgia passed one of the nation’s toughest anti-illegal immigration bills to date.

Georgia’s Senate bill 529 requires public employers, government contractors and subcontractors to verify the work eligibility of all newly- hired employees through an electronic federal work authorization program.  It also allows trained state law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration.  Oklahoma and Arizona were quick to adopt similar laws the following year.

In 2010, Arizona attracted media attention by enacting Senate Bill 1070, which many felt legalized racial profiling by targeting people that appeared to be of Latin descent.  Now, with Senate bill 590 (SB 590), it seems that Indiana is following suit.

The “Reasonable Suspicion” Debate

SB 590, which some are calling the Arizona-style anti-illegal immigration bill, contains 30 pages of changes to Indiana law concerning the enforcement of federal immigration policies, proposed by Republican Sen. Mike Delph.

“Portions of this bill are mirrored off the Arizona bill.  In particular the ‘reasonable suspicion’ aspect that is catching a lot of public attention,” Michael Brown, Delph’s legislative assistant, says.

If it passes, SB 590 would give police officers the ability to contact federal authorities and check the immigration status of any person stopped for any violation if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant.

Reasonable suspicion was something established in the 1968 Terry v. Ohio case.  The United States Supreme Court held that a person’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated if the police officer has reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime, or a reasonable belief that the person may be armed and dangerous.

“Coupled with other red flags that an officer might see pursuant to a stop, all of that put together can possibly amount to reasonable suspicion,” Brown says.

This portion of the bill troubles Tatiana Nieto, a senior social work major and Latino Student Union (LSU) member.

“Reasonable suspicion is left to the officer’s discretion. So, unless there is a list of what reasonable suspicion means, it could lead to racial profiling,” Nieto says.

In fact, many fear that SB 590 is a recipe for racial profiling.  “My mom is a U.S. citizen.  She understands English but she doesn’t speak it because it never stuck with her,” Nieto says.

If this bill passes, it is possible that innocent people like Nieto’s mom who are dark-skinned and speak Spanish will be targeted as illegal.

“This is oppressive to the Latino community, because it will lead people to label us by our color and our language,” Nieto says.

Alejandra Lagunas, a junior landscape architecture major and LSU member, believes there are other more important things police officers should be doing with their time.  “They shouldn’t be able to check the immigration status of anyone because that is not their job,” she says. “A police officer’s job is to make us feel like secure community members, and to make sure that we are safe from crime.”

According to Brown, however, the community has warranted this section of the bill.  In a 2007 survey sent by Mike Delph to his constituents, 72 percent thought Indiana law enforcement officials should be given the power to enforce federal immigration law. Brown says only 28 percent voted “no.”

If the is made law, police officers will receive proper training to enforce federal immigration and customs laws.

¡Inglés solamente! (English only!)

Another section of SB 590 requires that only English be used in public meetings, public documents and by officers and employees of the state of Indiana.  This includes all electronically transmitted messages, which means that any email or website that communicates state information will only be available in English.

“Senator Delph wanted to include this section because it is current law that English is the primary language of Indiana,” Brown says.  “It has been mentioned in other states’ bills.  If this section is kept in, you can go to a state website and will no longer have the option to choose Spanish or any other version of language for the website.”

English may be the primary language of Indiana, but it is not the only language.  According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, 362,082 Hoosiers spoke a language other than English in the home, and 185,576 of those spoke Spanish.  It is important to keep in mind that these numbers reflect only legal citizens of the United States.

Making English the only language will provide uniformity for Indiana government, but it could discourage non-English speaking citizens from filling out public documents, like the driver’s license test.  “Even [legal citizens] will think, ‘If it’s not offered, then why should I do it?’  This part of the bill will not affect illegal immigrants because they do not have the rights to those documents in the first place,” Nieto says.

Lagunas believes that passing this section into law will strip the culture from people’s lives. “For a lot of [immigrants], language is the only thing we have to remember from our old country.  Why would they want to take that away from us?” Lagunas says. “I don’t have anything against learning English, but I don’t see why we have to tell others not to speak another language.”

Why You Should Care

SB 590 could impact Indiana’s economy by prohibiting employers from hiring illegal immigrants without federal authorization.

With no employment opportunities for illegal immigrants, Tatiana Nieto predicts that many people, both legal and illegal, will leave the state.  “People will be living in fear [of racial profiling], and as a result, they will stop going places or leave Indiana to find work elsewhere,” Nieto says. “This is going to hurt business.”

If people leave the state, it could impinge on the production rate that industries rely on to make a profit.  “This is going to greatly affect the workforce.  It’s true; Americans don’t want to do the jobs that illegal immigrants will do.  [Employers] take advantage of their situation because they know they can without consequence,” Lagunas says.

Around 13.4 million foreign-born Hispanic workers make up the U.S. workforce.  The majority of these workers occupy positions in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, wholesale, service and accommodation-related fields.  “More foreign labor increases supply and tends to lower wages in [these] industries,” Dr. John Horowitz, a Ball State economics professor, says.

Foreign-born labor benefits Hoosiers in many ways.  “It makes Indiana more competitive in these industries. In agriculture, Indiana is able to produce more labor-intensive agricultural goods.  In construction, families and business can afford to have more done.  In tourism, people can afford more leisure. Overall, Hoosiers’ standard of living increases,” Horowitz says.

If SB 590 passes, jobs would become available in these industries, and there might be less competition for them.  Horowitz says that wages would be raised, but less would be produced.

Nieto fears that no one will want to fill these positions.  “Many of these jobs are ones that no one wants.  Latinos do the jobs that nobody else will do [because they have to].  If someone doesn’t do them, who will?” Nieto says.  “I have detassled [corn] before, and the people that stick around are Latinos.  A lot of other people leave because they cannot handle it.”

It is estimated that between 50 to 70 percent of our nation’s agriculture work force is undocumented immigrants.  “On average I think the economy is better off with their work,” Horowitz says.  SB 590 could force these workers out of a job, putting Indiana industries at risk.

Taking Action

The need for immigration reform is real; however, the debate over who should be administering that reform is split and unclear.

Brown believes that Indiana, along with other states considering immigration laws, is simply following the law by passing this legislation.  “A lot of people think that this bill is something that the federal government needs to enforce and take control of.  [But SB 590] is the state’s federal inaction on a bill that is extremely important,” Brown says.

Others think that immigration is an issue that should be left up to the federal government in order to avoid state-to-state confusion.  “It is going to be craziness if each state has separate immigration laws,” Lagunas says. “SB 590 is not the solution to immigration.  The solution needs to be more comprehensive; it is something that has to be tackled by the federal government, and the whole country.  There are more important issues that the state should be dealing with, like education and the drop out rates.”

Lagunas and Nieto encourage Ball State students to send letters to or call state representatives to voice their opinion on SB 590.  “People may care about the issue, but they don’t act.  Ball State needs to become more aware,” Lagunas says.

Currently, SB 590 awaits a final reading in the House scheduled for some time in late April.  If it becomes a law, it will take effect on July 1, 2011.


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