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As a state senator, I normally dedicate my column to issues directly facing the state. However, there’s a debate occurring on a national level that has consequences for Nebraskans. Illegal immigration has become an issue shrouded in confusing, and at times, misleading, language. My hope is that this week’s article can provide a basic insight into the debate on illegal immigration.
The phrase “illegal immigration” itself has become cloudy. Some claim that it unfairly paints undocumented immigrants as criminals. That line of argument ignores the fact that entering this country illegally is, in fact, a crime. Far-left lawmakers argue all illegal immigrants are “asylum seekers.” Even though those who cross the border illegally may be seeking a better future for themselves or their families, they are not, under any definition, “asylum seekers” until they formally declare their intent to seek asylum. This can take place at either a legal port of entry or in the United States.
A person is not an asylum seeker until they begin the formal process. The overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants do not make any effort to begin this process, and to do so, asylum seekers must meet two requirements: they must 1) fear persecution in their own country and 2) fall into one of five protected classes. Referring to all illegal immigrants as “asylum seekers” is incorrect. In reality, most illegal immigrants in the United States are “economic migrants,” meaning they are trying to improve their economic standing by coming to the country. These immigrants do not fall under the definition of asylum seekers.
There have been dozens of demonstrations against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials in the last few weeks. The most visible of these protests occurred in Aurora, Colorado, where the American flag was stripped from its pole and replaced with a Mexican flag. Protestors claim that ICE is responsible for separating immigrant children from their parents, when it is really U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents who are responsible for that task. Such separations typically happen when adults are suspected of trafficking the children they are accompanying across the border. Even when the adults are not suspected of trafficking the child, separating the child from their parent upon arrest is something that happens in all cases of arrest in our country, from illegal immigration to DUI cases.
Though most Nebraskans are adamant we would never have a sanctuary state or sanctuary cities, this debate has crept into our politics. LB 502, which came before me in the Judiciary Committee this year, would have made it illegal for local law enforcement officials to ask about a person’s immigration status. Even if the person admitted that they entered the country illegally, the officer could not share it with anyone else, including federal law enforcement officers or even other officers within their own department. This would tie the hands of officers, and be the first time in our state that we have passed a law to forbid cooperation with federal officials. The bill did not have a successful hearing and will remain in committee. I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Nebraska from passing laws to become a sanctuary state and compromise the safety of our citizens.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: email@example.com.