“SAFE Act” Redux: A Bill That Encourages Racial Profiling Is the Wrong Approach to Immigration

The president’s executive actions will provide welcome relief for millions of American families who fear losing a loved one to deportation. But while this temporary fix alleviates some of the pain and suffering brought about by our broken immigration system, it is a far cry from the lasting solution that only comprehensive immigration reform can bring.

Heading into the new legislative session, we had hoped that Congress would pursue legislation that addresses the multitude of problems that exist within our outdated immigration laws. Yet in the short time that they have been in office, we have already seen House Republicans backpedal on this issue by attempting to dismantle the president’s deportation relief programs. Now they are considering bringing back the ironically named “SAFE Act,” or “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (H.R. 2278).

In contrast to its name, the “SAFE Act” will make living in America more dangerous for millions of families. This legislation gives state and local authorities the power to create and implement their own immigration laws, throwing an already chaotic immigration system into further disorder. It emphasizes an enforcement-only approach that focuses on locating, detaining, and deporting undocumented immigrants. It encourages racial profiling, which will inevitably lead to wrongful detention because anyone who “looks illegal” can be stopped, arrested, and detained. And it goes so far as to criminalize undocumented status, as well as the mere act of providing assistance to undocumented immigrants. Under this law, a church providing shelter to undocumented immigrants could actually face criminal prosecution.

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Using deplorable legislation such as Arizona SB 1070 and the Sensenbrenner bill of 2005 as models for current immigration policy is not the way forward. Making racial profiling the law of the land threatens our civil rights, violates our core American values, and tramples on the constitutional principle of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. Threatening undocumented immigrants also erodes community safety because these individuals will be less likely to report crimes to the police.

We have seen Arizona and Alabama go down this misguided path of pursuing draconian enforcement bills. The results were the same: a slew of lawsuits and the dismantling of these racial profiling laws by the courts.

The House of Representatives has a responsibility to put forward sensible solutions to fix our immigration system, but the “SAFE Act” is not only unwise, it is downright dangerous. If we want to make progress on immigration, then the House should abandon the “SAFE Act” and focus on bipartisan compromise that takes a comprehensive approach to fixing our immigration woes.

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