Baton Rouge, LA — On April 15th and again on May 13th, Representative Joe Harrison of District 51 introduced House Bill 1205 (HB1205), otherwise known as the "Louisiana Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2010." The bill, which includes measures that were defeated in 2008, details a plan to discourage undocumented workers from even thinking about crossing the state line into Louisiana.
In response to the proposal, Puentes New Orleans — a nonprofit group that strives to promote intercultural relations — organized a trip to Baton Rouge to attend the House Judiciary Committee hearing on April 15th and again on May 13th. During both hearings HB1205 was removed from the agenda. Appearing visibly irritated after the May 13th hearing, Harrison has since submitted a substitute bill.
"It doesn't seem that he [Harrison] is ready to give up," says Lucas Díaz, Puentes New Orleans Executive Director. According to Díaz, national research has disproven Harrison's claims that HB1205 could save Louisiana money by prohibiting undocumented immigrants access to state resources. In fact, even though immigrants have a legal right to these services many do not use them out of fear.
HB1205 calls for schools and hospitals to verify that anyone 14 years of age or older who comes to them for service must prove that they are legally in the United States. Police officers would also have to verify the immigration status of every arrested person or notify the Department of Homeland Security if unable to do so (thus becoming de facto deportation agents).
The bill would make it illegal to harbor, conceal, shelter, or transport undocumented immigrants. This means family members and friends of undocumented persons would be in jeopardy of a fine or serving jail time simply for helping their loved ones. The penalty for the first offense is a fine of $1000 or 6 months in jail; second time offenders would face a $2,000 fine, 1 year in jail, or both. Finally, HB1205 calls for public employers to verify the eligibility of all new employees in the Status Verification System; a very expensive requirement.
Jordan Shannon, Policy-Advocacy Coordinator of Puentes, believes if this bill were passed it would create a culture of fear within Louisiana. "It is potentially harmful to citizens in terms of penalizing them for humanitarian acts," states Shannon. Louisiana residents could be scared to interact with immigrants for fear of arrest. Immigrants might be fearful of applying for jobs, reporting crimes or seeking healthcare. HB1205 might cause an increase in unjustified racial profiling. Racial tensions may increase as generalizations began to be made against any person suspected of being undocumented. This in turn could spark an increase in crime.
If successfully passed, the bill would go into effect this July. Puentes leaders feel the result of passing HB1205 would actually cause more harm than intended and require the State to spend funds it presently does not have.
It seems that Harrison is intent on pushing HB 1205 through the legislature and Puentes is ready to defend the Latino community. The showdown will continue as Puentes will attend House Judiciary Committee hearings regarding HB1205 until this legislative session is over. Although they had a significant presence in the Capitol May 13th, Díaz stated, "We would like a larger number next week (May 27th)."
NOTE: Puentes and the entire Latino community need your support. Tell Representative Harrison that you oppose House Bill 1205 by calling 1(800)935-2081. Puentes is organizing a trip to the next hearing in Baton Rouge this Thursday, May 27. The group will meet in the parking lot of Puentes' office on the corner of 1050 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy and Euphrosine, New Orleans at 7:00 AM. Please join them in expressing your opposition to the bill.
Lori Tyler is Assistant Editor of Jambalaya News.
Photo from Jambalaya News.
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