By MAUREEN HAYDEN
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS — When a federal judge struck down key provisions of the state’s immigration law last week, it seemed anticlimactic.
In June 2011, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker had granted a temporary injunction that barred the law from taking effect that July while she weighed its constitutionality.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when she issued her ruling that said portions of the law, including the provision that permitted warrantless arrests of non-citizens, were unconstitutional.
With Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s decision not to appeal the ruling, the court case is over. But the argument over the state’s role in immigration enforcement is not.
Republican state Sen. Mike Delph made that clear to me last week, before Barker’s ruling on legislation that he helped write.
The conservative legislator from Carmel was concerned about a story I wrote on an immigration bill currently in the General Assembly: Senate Bill 207. It’s legislation that would partially roll back Indiana’s two-year-old ban on in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented workers.
I wrote about the bill because I thought it reflected a dramatic shift going on nationally among Republicans courting the Hispanic vote: It was Republicans who pushed the in-state tuition ban two years ago, arguing that Indiana should no longer be a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. And now it’s key Republicans who are pushing to roll back the ban, arguing it’s unnecessarily punitive to the children of those immigrants.
But Delph said the bill signals something else: A polarizing fight within the Republican Party over just how far to go to court the Hispanic vote.
Delph calls Senate Bill 207 a “purely political” piece of legislation.
“There is a concern that if we don’t start doing this we’re going to lose votes,” Delph said. “My position has always been: You stand on principle, make your case, then you go sell the people on the case that you’ve made.”
Here’s his case: “There are a lot of people across the economic spectrum, the political spectrum and across the cultural spectrum that believe deeply in the rule of law; that everybody, regardless of race, national origin or economic circumstance should be treated exactly the same. We’re not doing that…We’re focusing strictly on the human element and the consequence of the decision that somebody in that family made to purposely violate the law.”
Delph believes some price needs to be paid before the state or the nation starts clearing a path for citizenship for the children of immigrants who came here illegally. One of his conditions, he said, is a mea culpa: “Some sort of public acknowledgement from whoever was in that child’s life that made that decision to intentionally violate the law and as a result put that child in the situation they are in today.”
Delph describes himself as the “most conservative” Republican in the Indiana General Assembly and acknowledges his views differ sharply from those Republicans who are shifting on immigration reform.
The shift is real: A Pew Research Center poll released last month found that 64 percent of Republicans now believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States legally; 34 percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposition.
But Delph argues that backing off principle, just to broaden political appeal, is a mistake: “By just looking at politics and votes, that is a horrible way to make public policy,” Delph said.
“We need to do the right thing,” he continued. “We need to the just thing. I agree with that but we need to be anchored in law … To push that off to the side for political convenience I think is the wrong way to go and I think we will rue the day that we did it.”
— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org