Passed by the House Judiciary Committee in June, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement or SAFE Act is set for a floor vote by the full House of Representatives this October. With a potential vote looming, critics of the bill are protesting in force, arguing that the SAFE Act will lead to nationwide anti-immigrant legislation that mirrors Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 in scope and impact.
If passed, the SAFE Act would make it a federal offense for any immigrant to be in the United States without proper authorization. In addition, the bill expands the authority of states to enact and enforce their own immigration laws. The bill permits state and local law enforcement authorities to independently arrest, detain and prosecute those living in the country illegally. In fact, some law enforcement agencies would be eligible for federal grants that would help facilitate such activities.
For those who support state-sponsored immigration laws like those passed in Arizona (SB 1070), Alabama (HB 56), South Carolina (SB 20) and Georgia (HB 87), the SAFE Act is a necessary piece of legislation that more clearly delineates the authority of states to enforce immigration law within their own boundaries. Up until now, whenever these laws have been passed, lengthy legal battles have ensued over their constitutionality.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against several key provisions of SB 1070, striking down the requirement that all U.S. immigrants carry documents with them at all times as well as the provision that made it a crime for undocumented workers to seek employment in this country. However, the ruling upheld the crux of the Arizona anti-immigration law that allows state and local law enforcement officers to demand proof of residency from those encountered during routine police work. The result of this split Supreme Court ruling has been even more confusion over the authority of states on this issue, necessitating, for SAFE ACT supporters, legislation to further elucidate this role.
Critics of the SAFE Act, dubbed by some the “Safe to Profile Act,” argue that it will lead to a nationwide breakdown in trust between Latino communities and law enforcement, as is happening in Arizona and other states that have already launched anti-immigrant laws. These critics believe that legalized racial profiling does little to inhibit immigration to this country, but rather it merely pushes undocumented individuals further into the shadows, where they are often victimized and exploited.
As a House vote on the SAFE Act nears, immigrant rights activists are planning a number of rallies and information campaigns to spread their message about the potential pitfalls of the bill.