Menendez Speaks Against Coleman Amendment

Menendez Speaks Against Coleman Amendment

Measure would place enforcement of immigration law above protecting the health and safety of communities

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today voiced his objections to the amendment offered by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Menendez spoke on the floor against the amendment, which would outlaw state and local policies that prevent their employees, including police and health and safety workers, from inquiring about the immigration status of those they serve if there is "probable cause" to believe the individual being questioned is an undocumented immigrant. The amendment provides no exception for policies that are necessary to protect the health and safety or promote the welfare of the community.

"Think of the potential chilling effect that this amendment could have on the willingness and ability of immigrant crime victims and witnesses - those that have been victims of domestic abuse, or those that may need emergency health care - to seek assistance if they feared that the result would be deportation rather than assistance," said Menendez.

The Senator also discussed the amendment's potential to result in racial profiling:

"People who look or sound foreign will be the ones whose citizenship or immigration status will be questioned," said Menendez. "Under this amendment, we are asking public hospital workers, teachers, police, social workers and all public employees to decide when there is probable cause to believe someone does not have lawful immigration status. That means treating anyone who looks or sounds foreign with suspicion. That's just plain wrong."


Full text of Menendez comments, as prepared for delivery:

M. President, as Ronald Reagan said, "here we go again."

Over the last several years, especially in the House of Representatives, there have been different pieces of legislation and amendments offered and debated that would deputize state and local police to enforce federal civil immigration law.

The Coleman-Bond amendment would effectively prohibit state and local government policies that seek to encourage crime reporting and witness cooperation by reassuring immigrant victims that police and other government officials will not inquire into their status.

So, the amendment would end state and local policies that prevent their employeesincluding police and health and safety workersfrom inquiring about the immigration status of those they serve if there is "probable cause" to believe the individual being questioned is undocumented.

Many cities, counties and police departments around this country have decided that it's a matter of public health and safety NOT to ask about immigration status when people report crimes, or have been the victims of domestic abuse, or go to the hospital seeking emergency medical care.

Currently, scores of cities and states across this nation have such confidentiality policies in place, some for upwards of twenty years. The point of these policies is to make sure immigrants report crimes and information to police, and do not stay silent for fear that their immigration status - or that of a loved one - could come under scrutiny if they contact the authorities.

Think of the potential chilling effect that this amendment could have on the willingness and ability of immigrant crime victims and witnesses - those that have been victims of domestic abuse, or those that may need emergency health care - to seek assistance if they feared that the result would be deportation rather than assistance.

That's why states and cities have passed local laws and set policies limiting when police and city and county employees can ask people to prove their immigration status

State and local police have long sought to separate their activities from those of federal immigration agents in order to enhance public safety. Why is that?

Because when immigrant community residents begin to see state and local police as deportation agents, they stop reporting crimes and assisting in investigations. It undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities that are essential elements of community oriented policing.

There are numerous examples of police opposing such efforts. In fact, in 2005, Princeton, New Jersey Police Chief Anthony V. Federico said,

"Local police agencies depend on the cooperation of immigrants, legal and illegal, in solving all sorts of crimes and in the maintenance of public order. Without assurances that they will not be subject to an immigration investigation and possible deportation, many immigrants with critical information would not come forward, even when heinous crimes are committed against them or their families."

So, the police understand that relationships of trust built with the immigrant community would be ruined overnight if this provision becomes law.

This amendment could also cause millions of people in this country - not just immigrants - to think twice about getting the medical treatment they need. Why would we discourage individuals from receiving medical care?

Let's think about the possible consequences for a second. If you are rolled into an emergency room and you do not have insurance, would there be "probable cause" to be asked whether or not you are here legally in the United States.

Assume I get rolled into an emergency room, Mr. Menendez, or maybe someone who might even be described as more characteristically Hispanic, or maybe Asian, or some other group, and I do not happen to have insurance, as unfortunately 40 million Americans who are here as U.S. citizens do not have, and I get asked whether or not I am a citizen of the United States.

That would be shameful. You would not ask any other citizen that. But because I happen to have the misfortune of not having health insurance, you ask me. And of course those of us who look a certain way will for sure be asked.

This amendment could also encourage racial profiling. People who look or sound foreign will be the ones whose citizenship or immigration status will be questioned.

Under this amendment, we are asking public hospital workers, teachers, police, social workers and all public employees to decide when there is probable cause to believe someone does not have lawful immigration status. That means treating anyone who looks or sounds foreign with suspicion. That's just plain wrong.

One could argue that the Coleman amendment is a coercive action against any State, municipality, or other entity to say to that State, municipality, or other entity they must do a series of things, such as obtaining information on a person's status, like my own, which I was born in this country.

So much for State rights. So much for the local municipalities know best. So much for all I have listened to in my 15 years in Congress from my Republican colleagues speaking of State rights, of local rules, of States knowing best.

We do not need a provision such as this. Current law already provides ample authority for state and local police to assist federal immigration agents in enforcing the law against criminals and terrorists. What they cannot do is start asking everyone they come across for their "papers."

States and localities that do want to take on a broader role in immigration enforcement can enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with ICE, receive training in immigration law, and assist in enforcement operations under ICE supervision.

M. President, this amendment would create fear in entire communities, and would inevitably deter not only undocumented immigrants, but also legal immigrants and citizens from seeking the medical care, protection from an abusive spouse, or assistance after a crime that they need so much.

That is why I urge my colleagues to vote down this unnecessary amendment.

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