Reasonable suspicion may be enough to question immigration status in Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – On Thursday the Missouri Senate debated a joint resolution that would require law enforcement to verify the immigration status of individuals if reasonable suspicion exists that they are illegally in the United States.

The sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 18, Sen. Mike Cunningham (R-District 33), said his resolution is carefully drafted and would protect law-abiding immigrants.

“When illegals create problems, it’s a black-eye for law-abiding legals,” Cunningham said during the hearing on Thursday.  “I think that creates a lot of prejudice against them.”

He also referred to a similar bill in Arizona that was the basis of a 2012 Supreme Court case.  In Arizona vs. United States, the Supreme Court struck down some sections of the bill, but approved a provision allowing local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status.

“It does not, I don’t think, create racial profiling,” Cunningham said.  “I don’t think the Supreme Court would have allowed it.”

Senators opposed to the resolution argued that it would allow for racial profiling to occur.

A family therapist, Judith McGrath, from St. Francis Community Services, testified that the resolution would increase anxiety in the immigrant community.

“If we begin to pluck people, law-abiding, tax-paying, church-going individuals, if we pluck them from their lives, from their families, and their workplaces, sooner or later, all Missourians will feel the consequences,” McGrath said.

The senator’s also heard from Alexis Engelbrecht-Villafane, a religious leader within Missouri Faith Voices, who opposes the resolution.

“It puts the community’s safety at risk when people don’t feel comfortable talking to the police,” Engelbrecht-Villafane said. “It’s counter-productive to the mission of this committee.”

Missouri voters would have to approve the resolution before it would become law.


Information from the Missouri School of Journalism contributed to this report.

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