A Missouri Senate committee is holding a hearing Tuesday, January 17 on a bill that would require schools to check the immigration status of students. And it calls on police to check anyone they stop, if they have a suspicion it could be an illegal immigrant.
It's hard to say for sure how many illegal immigrants live in Missouri. The research organization Pew Hispanic Centers conducts national surveys and puts the number at anywhere between 35,000 and 75,000. That's about one percent, or less, of the population of the state of Missouri.
State Senator Will Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican, said his bill is about getting more precise information.
"We're not trying to run people out of town, we're trying to get data," he said.
Last year, Kraus sponsored a bill that would require the attorney general to sue the federal government for the costs of illegal immigration to Missouri taxpayers. That would include the cost of educating the undocumented, paying medical bills and local law enforcement expenses for checking the status and detaining immigrants. At the time, some senators wondered whether these costs were really significant, so Kraus tried to find out.
"So we went out and tried to get information about the impact that illegals were costing on taxpayers, and no one was tracking any information. We couldn't get anything from schools, corrections weren't keeping anything," Kraus said. "So that was the genesis of this bill, and we modified our other bill."
Senate Bill 590 requires schools to check the birth certificates of students enrolling in the district at the same time they check their residency. The numbers, along with enrollment in English Language Learner classes, will be compiled by the state Department of Education and sent to the state legislature. But the identity of the undocumented students is to be kept confidential, and Senator Kraus said it won’t affect their education.
"The US Supreme Court has ruled that those kids have a right to go to schools," Kraus said.
The bill also calls on state and local police to check the immigration status of the people they stop, “when practicable.” This expands an existing state mandate to check immigration on arrests.
"They have to have to have reasonable suspicion," Kraus said. "They're running people that they believe are here illegally."
The bill states that officers "may not consider race, color or national origin" to enforce the law. When asked what would constitute "reasonable suspicion," Kraus said, "I'm not a police officer. I wouldn't know what a police officer would use for 'reasonable suspicion.'"
Those who oppose this bill say that getting local police involved in immigration will lead to racial profiling. Vanessa Crawford of Missouri Immigrants and Refugee Advocates said similar laws in states like Arizona are facing court battles.
"Where we have seen in communities where local police are doing the job of immigration agents, it drives a web between the police and the community," Crawford said. "And where the police and community should be cooperating with each other, we have mistrust of the police."
The school section of Missouri Senate Bill 590 is similar to an Alabama immigration law passed last year. The part instructing schools to collect immigration status was enjoined by an appeals court soon after it went into effect. Crawford said while it was in effect, thousands of kids in Arizona didn’t go to school.
"The stakes are very high. Our immigration system separates families all the time. Parents get deported away from their children," Crawford said. "And there's good reason for families to be cautious."
Crawford said the bill will end up costing a significant amount to implement, and even more if it’s challenged in court, as similar laws have been elsewhere. And she disputes the idea that illegal immigrants aren’t paying taxes to support the services they receive from the state.
"There’s this idea that we’re talking about the problem of illegal immigration or we're talking about dollars and cents. The truth of it is that we're talking about real people and real families. We're talking parents and their children and trying to take care of your family and be safe," Crawford said.
State Senator Will Kraus said there are too many unknowns when it comes to illegal immigrants in the state of Missouri.
"My job is to be an advocate for the taxpayers … and make sure those dollars are being spent on Missourians and educating Missouri's children, and taking care of the disabled in the state of Missouri," Kraus said. "When we have a significant cost to people that are breaking our laws in the United States and the federal government continues to release these people … that is impacting the services we can provide to all Missourians."
Senate Bill 590 will have a first hearing before the General Laws committee on Tuesday morning.
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