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Senate debates resolution on questioning immigration status with “reasonable suspicion”

A joint resolution before the Senate would require law enforcement to verify the immigration status of individuals if reasonable suspicion exists that they are illegally present in the United States.

State Sen. Mike Cunningham, R - District 33, the sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 18, 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 in the resolution’s hearing on Thursday. “I think that creates a lot of prejudice against them.”

He also referred to a similar bill in Arizona, Senate Bill 1070, which was the basis of a 2012 Supreme Court case. In Arizona v. 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.”

Those who opposed the resolution argued against Cunningham, saying it would allow for racial profiling to occur.

Judith McGrath is a family therapist at St. Francis Community Services. She testified against the resolution because she said it 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.

Alexis Engelbrecht-Villafane, a religious leader within Missouri Faith Voices, also testified against the resolution. She said it “specifically targets individuals who look or talk a certain way.”

“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.”

The resolution would need voter approval before becoming law.