Lawmaker to challenge Arizona-style immigration bill

January 17, 2011

Sen. Brenda Council
Omaha Senator Brenda Council gets animated during a speech at a public peacekeeping workshop in Lincoln, Neb.

Story by Asha Anchan, photo by Kyle Bruggeman

From a legal standpoint, Nebraska’s Arizona-style immigration bill is flat out unconstitutional, an Omaha state senator said Sunday at a Lincoln church filled with opponents of the bill.

Sen. Brenda Council aggressively questioned the intentions of Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, who introduced the bill – LB48 – to the Nebraska Legislature on Jan. 6. She told about 225 people gathered for a public peacemaking workshop at First United Methodist Church that the bill appeared to be written with the knowledge that it would be found unconstitutional.

“Now my question to Sen. Janssen and his sponsors is, ‘Did you forget that little thing called the oath of office when you were sworn in to the Legislature and you swore or affirmed to support the U.S. Constitution, not disregard it?’” said Council, who has a law degree and is a member of the judiciary committee. “So when LB48 comes before the legislative judiciary committee, I’m going to have fun.”

Janssen’s bill – dubbed the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act – requires police who stop or arrest someone to check whether that person is in the country legally if the officers reasonably suspect otherwise. In June, voters in Janssen’s hometown of Fremont approved an ordinance preventing landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and businesses from hiring them.

But both the controversial Arizona law and the Fremont ordinance have been bogged down in court after a series of legal challenges. Janssen, however, has said he believes his proposed immigration law will succeed.

Janssen worked hand in hand with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, tweaking Nebraska’s immigration bill in an effort to insulate it from some of the legal challenges that have befallen the Arizona law. Both Janssen and Bruning have said they do not believe Nebraska’s proposed immigration law will trigger racial profiling by police and that it will withstand the anticipated legal challenges.

As a challenge to LB48, Sen. Council told Sunday’s gathering she is preparing a resolution to present to the judiciary committee. Her resolution, she noted, is not a law, but rather a statement of her beliefs and those of other faith-based communities across the nation.

“What it does is focus the Legislature’s attention on what the real issues are here and that’s stabilizing families, protecting civil rights and appreciating the value to the economy of the state of Nebraska as a result of immigrants residing in this state,” Council said.

Council was one of four speakers at the six-hour workshop. The others included the Rev. Frederick McCullough, pastor at Omaha’s St. John African Methodist Church, Lincoln attorney S.A. Mora James and Omaha Police Department Deputy Chief Todd Schmaderer. The event began at 1:30 p.m. and was co-sponsored by Peacemaking Workshop XXIV, First United Methodist Church and the Lincoln chapter of Nebraskans for Peace.

Coleen Seng, former Lincoln mayor and workshop organizer from First United Methodist, said the church started peacemaking workshops during the Vietnam War and they have continued ever since.

“Throughout the years, we’ve continued to try to bring someone in that could stimulate one’s thinking,” Seng said.

Mora James, a Latina civil rights attorney, was Sunday’s first speaker and credited her Catholic convictions for shaping her immigration policy.

She presented five central goals for what she called “federal comprehensive immigration reform.” They included: enforcement policies and safeguards, securing all of the borders, creating “a legal channel that serves U.S. interest and curtails immigration,” protecting U.S. workers from “globalization’s destabilizing effects” and “foster[ing] an inclusive American identity.”

“In truth, the new immigrants are actually economic refugees,” said James, who was one of the attorneys to sue Fremont. “They are hardworking, family orientated, humble people who come here out of desperation to feed their children, not unlike our families who came here years ago.”

As she spoke in the church sanctuary, a pair of cousins who are here illegally sat in a nearby pew. They said they had come to the event to gauge public opinion. Both men arrived in Nebraska from Mexico in the mid-1990s and have worked in Nebraska ever sine. Both men, who did not want their names published, are married and each has two children. One of the men is in the process of becoming a legal resident.

They said the proposed Arizona-style immigration law feels discriminatory and they would leave the state if the law passed.

Sen. Council also weighed in on the possibility of a stampede of unlawful immigrants fleeing Nebraska if the law passed. But she said those here illegally would not be the only ones leaving the state.

“We will have a mass exodus of immigrants who are lawfully present in this state because they don’t want to have to suffer the oppression and the discrimination associated with always being a suspect,” Council said.

Additionally, an analysis of LB48’s potential economic fallout also was noted at the event. The Rev. Chuck Bentjen, who heads the Manna & Mercy Center in Beatrice, cited a UNO study reflecting the economic impact of immigrants in Nebraska. Immigrants accounted for $1.6 billion worth of total production of Nebraska’s economy and generated roughly 12,000 jobs for the state in 2006, according to the study.

Bentjen brought the event to a close by reminding the audience of the implications of LB48 and invited people to write to their legislators concerning the bill.

Summed up attorney James: “We must be the voice for the voiceless in our state and in our nation. We must stand up against this encroachment upon our civil rights.
We do not want what happened in Arizona to happen in Nebraska.”

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