Politics & Government

Latino community expresses fear about immigration bill

Faced with the possibility that state lawmakers might pass a bill to crack down on illegal immigrants, more than 100 people, mostly Latinos, turned out Sunday to learn more about the measure.

Many of the answers they received did nothing to relieve their anxiety.

"There is a sense of fear, a sense of rejection in the Latino community about this bill," said Andrés Cruz, editor and publisher of La Voz, an English/Spanish newspaper with a circulation of 10,000 that reports on Central Kentucky's Latin American community. "To me, the bill is simply political pandering."

Cruz and Marilyn Daniel, a volunteer attorney for Maxwell Street Legal Clinic, held a two-hour informational meeting about the controversial bill at the Lexington Public Library.

During the meeting, the group also learned about a rally at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Capitol in Frankfort to oppose the legislation.

The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill earlier this month; the Democratic-controlled House is to consider it when the legislative session resumes next week.

House leaders have said the House is unlikely to approve the bill. They compare it to Arizona's tough immigration law, which is being challenged in court.

Proponents of Senate Bill 6, including Senate President David Williams, have said Kentucky should approve the bill before neighboring states pass strict immigration laws and the Bluegrass State becomes a haven for illegal immigrants.

Williams, R-Burkesville, is running for governor this year.

The bill would allow police to ask about an immigrant's legal status during a "lawful contact" such as stopping a vehicle for having a tail light out.

It also creates new crimes for smuggling illegal immigrants for profit and "aiding and abetting" illegal immigrants to come to Kentucky.

Cruz and Daniel said at Sunday's meeting that they wanted to "try to explain the consequences" of the bill. Cruz said it has spawned "many false rumors."

The presentation drew numerous questions from the anxious audience.

If a police officer stopped someone for running a red light, could the officer inquire about immigration status?

Yes, Daniel said.

Would police target people with dark skin?

Daniel, who is white, said it's less likely police would ask her about her immigration status than they would most members of Sunday's audience.

Do police support this bill?

Many do not, Daniel said. Cruz said he has asked some Lexington police officers about the bill, "and they don't want to talk to me about it."

What if an illegal immigrant gets arrested and has children and some money in the bank?

"You need to plan ahead," Cruz said.

Some asked whether they should attend the February rally in Frankfort.

"If you are legal, yes. I would not if I were undocumented," Daniel said. "I would be afraid. You could be in a car wreck, and police would want to know about you."

Why are many employers in Central Kentucky's horse and hotel industry not speaking out against this bill?

"Businesses are in business to make money," Daniel said. "They don't want to offend politicians or their customers, so they rarely come out in public and make statements about law.

"But I understand many are working behind the scenes to talk to lawmakers."

There was one question Daniel could not answer.

A young woman with a child on her lap asked, "Why do these people want to do this to us? All we want to do is to work, pay our taxes, be good citizens and raise our children."

"I don't know," Daniel said.

In an interview after the meeting, Daniel was asked what politicians should do about illegal immigrants.

"I understand we're talking about 1 percent of the population in Kentucky, maybe not even that much," he said. "Data shows that in 2009, immigrants contributed $2.1 billion to the Kentucky economy. They pay taxes.

"The federal government already is addressing illegal immigrants. To put state police officers on it amounts to nothing more than trying to gain politically at the expense of a group of people who seek nothing but to make a living."

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