Each time it passes new legislation, Kentucky’s General Assembly has an opportunity to address barriers faced by Kentuckians of color and promote policies that allow all of us to thrive, or it can take steps that exacerbate disparities. Senate Bill 1 takes us in the wrong direction. Though the bill has been revised in response to public outcry about its potential impacts, the revisions create additional confusion, and the proposal would nevertheless increase disparities for Hispanic/Latino Kentuckians.
By requiring local law enforcement to become entangled in federal immigration enforcement activities beyond what is required by federal law, the bill would increase detentions (as well as corrections costs) and sow seeds of mistrust between state and local law enforcement and Kentucky communities, where immigrants and citizens live together in families and neighbors watch out for each other.
By adding extensive language about the responsibility of public agencies and employees to support federal immigration law to “their best efforts” – even though it is not clear what, exactly, is required or the consequences of not complying – the bill would create confusion and extra work for already cash-strapped agencies. This will compromise their ability to provide critical public services to all Kentuckians, but especially to Latino residents who experience discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and perceived immigration status as a result of a climate of aggressive immigration enforcement.
The bill adds another layer of harm for Kentuckians of color, whose quality of life is undermined by historically unequal and harmful immigration policies, exclusionary labor laws, ongoing unequal educational and employment opportunities, discrimination, racial profiling and unjust incarceration. Kentuckians who are Latino (the vast majority of whom are lawfully present in the US) earn about 65 cents for every dollar made by white Kentuckians and the poverty rate for white Kentuckians is about 9 percentage points lower than it is for Latino residents.
Though the bill says public employees “shall not consider race, color, religion, language or national origin while performing any duty that may be imposed as a result of this section except to the extent permitted” by the US and Kentucky constitutions, it’s fair to assume that given the policy’s ambiguities, the complexity of verifying the various kinds of documentation and the time and resource constraints agencies will face, racial profiling will become more common.
Under SB 1, when there is a detainer request from ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement), state and local law enforcement will no longer have a choice when it comes to detaining individuals beyond their release date – even in the absence of probable cause of a criminal offense, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. In addition to state and local governments being on the hook for related costs, voluntarily stepping up Kentucky’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement will further entangle Kentucky law enforcement in racial profiling of which ICE has been extensively accused. Though it may be the intent of the bill to treat all Kentuckians with legal status equally, the impact will be to treat Kentuckians unequally.
Discrimination and incarceration harm families, cause people to lose valuable work hours and compromise health outcomes. The threat of discrimination and incarceration also reduces engagement with public agencies and services. The consequences will be especially harsh for families who have a member wrongfully detained – an inevitability given the complexity of immigration law, the lack of guidance and resources in SB 1 and the experience of other states.
And the bill will be a setback for families and communities that choose not to interact with public agencies in order to avoid discrimination and protect loved ones from deportation. Research shows that aggressive enforcement through unnecessary entanglement with federal immigration agencies creates a heightened climate of fear, suppresses economic and community activity, detracts local governments from other public safety priorities and leads to reduced participation in reporting crimes. In fact, across the U.S., aggressive enforcement has been associated with declines in the reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault among Hispanic residents, for instance.
The bill will make it riskier for Kentuckians without documentation to participate in the public services they help pay for through state and local taxes – and to which they contribute at a higher effective tax rate than the wealthiest one percent of Kentuckians as the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has shown. SB 1 would limit these contributions, reduce households’ income and spending, separate families and have a negative impact on state and local budgets – all without providing the benefits that are identified as the intent of this legislation: Extensive research has shown that immigration, including of people who are undocumented, does not increase crime rates and deportation does not decrease crime.
Intentions matter, but not as much as impacts. Senate Bill 1 wouldn’t make Kentucky safer or economically better off. It would, however, harm people and exacerbate racial disparities.
Anna Baumann is Senior Policy Analyst and Communications Director at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.