Reactions Continue as Immigration Bills Shelved

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Gabe Rodriguez, far right, and his EMT team practice taking each other’s blood pressure. Photo provided by Gabe Rodriguez.

Story and photos by Danielle Kaster, NewsNetNebraska
It’s 5 o’clock in the evening in Phoenix, Ariz., and Gabe Rodriguez is just getting off work.  Rodriguez works 24-hour shifts as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and on the weekends he works with teens at the local YMCA.

“I’ve known all my life that I’m supposed to dedicate my time to helping people,” Rodriguez said in a telephone interview.

To him, the most rewarding part is people’s reactions; the smile on a boy’s face when he makes a basket during a game or the sigh of relief from the woman when she is told her husband will be ok.

“It’s just nice to be a part of something like that,” said Rodriguez.

Not everyone, though, has been so thankful. Rodriguez, 23, recalled a time recently when his EMT team was called to a local baseball game because a man had collapsed. As Rodriguez handed the man a bottle of water, the man asked if Rodriguez was “allowed to be here?”

Rodriguez says he hears similar remarks quite often, especially since Arizona has passed immigration laws. Rodriguez is Hispanic and with the current immigration hype in Arizona, he says some people look at him as though he has a disease.

“Just because I’m brown, just because I am Hispanic, people assume that I am here illegally,” said Rodriguez.

This type of racial profiling is exactly what many people who are against such immigration bills fear. Arizona’s immigration law, which is currently being battled in the courts, allows officers to ask for proof of citizenship if they have reasonable suspicion. Nebraska is among the states where similar legislation has been proposed.

Nebraska Sen. Charlie Janssen, who represents the  Fremont district, introduced a bill similar to Arizona’s during the 2011 Nebraska Legislature. The hearing for the bill was held March 2 at the state Capitol. An overflow of proponents and opponents poured into the standing-room-only hearing room. The hearing lasted more than four hours as countless people came to testify, both for and against the legislation.

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Sen. Charlie Janssen defends LB 48 at hearing on March 2.

Janssen’s bill would allow law enforcement officers to check immigration status if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. When asked if race was a qualification for reasonable suspicion, Janssen said he was not well versed in what would qualify, but law enforcement officers are trained to know what to look for.

An attorney from  Nebraska Appleseed, a non-profit, non-partisan public interest law firm that works for equality for all Nebraskans,  says LB 48 “sends a message that Nebraska permits racial profiling…something that would completely change our community environment.”

Supporters of the bill, however, believe illegal immigrants are costing the state money. Doug Kagen, who testified at the hearing on behalf of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, said undocumented workers were taking jobs from Nebraskans seeking employment and were “burdensome” to taxpayers.

Janssen admitted to expecting LB 48 to “be killed” because of the lack of support of the judiciary committee. The legislative committee, though, decided on March 9 to shelf all immigration bills until next year.

Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said a more thorough study needs to be done so the committee can handle the situation properly. The judiciary committee plans on studying the effects of a package of similar bills in Utah that Gov. Gary Herbert signed Tuesday. The different bills include one that is similar to Nebraska’s LB 48 as well a bill that creates a guest worker’s pass for undocumented workers. Sen. Brenda Council introduced a similar guest worker bill modeled after that of Utahs’s.

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Sen. Brenda Council questions Sen. Janssen during the opening of LB 48.

“This is complicated stuff,” said Ashford. Ashford said he hopes the committee will be able to study the effects of implementing stricter immigration enforcement.

Janssen said he is encouraged by the decision and hopes this means the senators on the committee are starting to see his point. Opponents refuse to give up that easily either.

For those who oppose  the bill, the answer to the millions of undocumented workers is not stricter immigration enforcement, but allowing a path to citizenship. Rodriguez who has felt the impact of the Arizona immigration law agrees that it is an issue of equality.

“We are all people and should be treated equal. Whether you’re a citizen does not change that,” Rodriguez said.

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