Michael Barges testifies in support of LB48.
Story by Rachel Albin, Asha Anchan and Gabriel Medina photo by Kyle Bruggeman
A former federal magistrate and a murder victim’s brother were among the lineup of testifiers at an intense public hearing Wednesday on LB48.
Testifiers, onlookers and media took every seat in the hearing room.
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, who introduced the Arizona-style immigration bill, was first to speak before the judiciary committee. The crowd hung on every word. At one point, they laughed. At another, they gasped. His testimony and questions lasted more than an hour.
Michael Barges, 45, of Omaha, was emotional when he showed the judiciary committee a picture of his nephew, whose father was allegedly murdered by an illegal immigrant from Mexico in January 2009. Barges testified in favor of the bill.
“I think it’s very difficult to have illegal immigrants in our society because if they do something wrong, they can’t be caught,” Barges said. “My brother Peter was stabbed by a man because he was dating his ex; but then he went back to Mexico.” Barges said the police have a warrant for the alleged killer’s arrest, but he hasn’t been extradited yet.
University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, Neb., said excluding Latinos would only worsen the shrinking of Nebraska’s small towns. Hassebrook is the executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.
Stories on the front pages of the state’s largest papers Wednesday showed a 77.3 percent growth rate in Nebraska’s Hispanic population in the last 10 years.
Counties who have seen their Hispanic populations double aren’t thriving because of immigrants, he said, but the influx of immigrants for now is a stop gap in what could be a much worse population loss.
Carl Schaffner testified in favor of LB48. But in the hallway outside, he said he was certain the bill would die in committee, referencing the “snarky attitudes” of senators.
“Breaking the law has always been illegal in the United States,” Schaffner said. “Why is driving drunk bad for me, but if you drive drunk and you might possibly be Hispanic, somehow it’s OK. You’re actually negative profiling, you’re profiling everybody that doesn’t appear Hispanic which is illegal.”
Former U.S. Government Magistrate Judge David Piester of Lincoln said he doesn’t think LB48 is worth the legal battles that would result.
“I think that if the bill passes, it basically means the state is going to buy a lot of lawsuits,” he said. “There are sometimes causes that are worthy of buying lawsuits, but this isn’t one of them.”