With his illegal immigration bill one of the hottest topics at the Statehouse this year, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has made lots of friends -- and a few enemies.
Supporters applaud him for standing up for the rule of law and cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, which his Senate Bill 335 would do. Critics call his bill racist and say it will be bad for Indiana.
Last week, Delph (right) sat down to discuss the controversy around the bill with Star reporter Dan McFeely and to explain what motivated him and why he thinks he was the right person to sponsor the bill.
Question: Critics have said Senate Bill 335 is bad for Indiana. Why do you think it is good?
Answer: I think any time you are trying to enforce the rule of law, it's a good thing. For companies to knowingly and willingly hire illegal immigrants for profit, bringing illegal immigrants into a culture that is not free, denying them basic human rights, I think (the bill is) the right thing to do.
I challenge all Hoosiers to stand up with me in this human rights issue, this national security issue, this basic fairness issue to Hoosier taxpayers. Hoosier taxpayers should not bear the economic costs to illegal immigration, and they do each and every day through the school system, through health care, through the incarceration of illegal immigrants in our prison system.
Q. Did you expect the opposition to be this vocal, this organized?
A. I have taken it personally, the ongoing charges by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that this bill is somehow motivated by racism. That is completely fallacious. It is wrong. They know it's wrong. They are using it as a wedge issue to fan the flames against what I am trying to do legitimately . . . and I resent that. . . .
I felt a moral obligation myself to take the lead on (the issue). Number one, because that is what my constituents have asked me to do; 87 percent of my constituents have expressed strong concerns about illegal immigration. But, secondly, because I know the Hispanic and Latino cultures so well. I studied in Mexico City; I worked in Central America; I traveled throughout the region -- I understand the culture. And I understand, quite frankly, the poverty. And I don't begrudge anybody for wanting to come to this country to better their life.
The problem that I have is when companies knowingly and willingly profit from below-market-cost labor. I just don't think that's right, and I think it's a terrible message to send to younger people.
Q. Explain how your bill protects innocent and legal Hispanics from being persecuted.
A. There is a provision that I wrote without any prodding from anybody, . . . and it says that this bill will not be enforced based upon national origin or ethnic identity, or words to that effect. And I feel very strongly about that.
You know, Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream that one day all men would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Wouldn't it be nice if we woke up one day and we didn't look around and say, "That person has darker skin, he must be illegal," or "That person has a different accent, he must be illegal?"
That is one of the benefits of this legislation, because it puts us under the rule of law and gets us away from these stereotypes that I think is very detrimental to our culture.
Q. Your bill makes it a crime to harbor an illegal immigrant. Does that mean a good Samaritan could go to jail for lending a hand?
A. Absolutely not. We amended the bill at my request to target (those who do that) for personal, commercial or financial gain. So, they have to be making a profit from it.
So, if you have a next-door neighbor, as an example, who is an illegal immigrant, who is a member of your church, you can take them to church. You are not covered by this bill. The idea of this bill is to take the money off the table, to go after those that are profiting from this illegal activity.
Q. Under this bill, how can an employer avoid racially profiling someone who wants a job?
A. That comes down to a moral issue with the individual person. People should not profile anyone based on race. That shouldn't happen in our society. Racism goes on today, and it's not right. . . .
What we did in this bill is that we gave businesses immunity if they just utilize the (federal government's identity) E-Verify system. Whether it is accurate or not, they have immunity.
Q. Take us back, at what point did you decide you wanted to take this issue on?
A. When I started to hear from my constituents a little bit more, especially in Wayne Township, about their frustration, and I started to hear the issue percolate a little bit in the hallways at the legislature, I felt an obligation to my constituents, but more important, I felt a moral obligation because of my background and knowledge of the Latino and Hispanic culture that I wanted to manage this process.
I wanted to try to elevate the debate. I am very proud of the fact that we have been able to elevate the debate to a very high level. I have not tolerated any kind of racial overtones from any of the people that have spoken either for or against, because I don't think that's what this issue is about.
Q. House Speaker Pat Bauer has said he wants some changes to your bill. What would you be willing to compromise on to get the bill passed?
A. The two big provisions of this bill that give it teeth are, one, having business licenses on the table; most businesses are very risk-averse. The idea of having a business license on the table will modify their behavior by definition, because they don't want to do anything that is going to put their business license in jeopardy. . . .
The second thing and probably the most important one in this bill is the coordination of law enforcement. . . . One of the criticisms of the failure of the federal government to enforce immigration law has been the lack of boots on the ground, the lack of law enforcement officials to be able to enforce the rule of law.
By having the superintendent of the State Police enter into a memorandum agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that allows them to come into an agreement of the who-what-when-where-why by which federal immigration law would be enforced at the state and local level, and the State Police would, in turn, train the local level.
Q. How much thought went into this bill, and did you seek counsel on it?
A. Oh, absolutely. Eliza Houston is the staff attorney for Legislative Services Agency, and they are a nonpartisan agency, and I trust her completely. She reviewed all the statutes. We sat down and have gone through the pitfalls.
I've sat down with the chambers of commerce folks and the Indiana Manufacturers folks, and I want to say I don't believe the IMA has been genuine with their approach in this. I am very disappointed in their behavior. Not so much with the chamber. They have been pretty forthright. . . .
Part of leadership is seeking out people that are much brighter, have much more knowledge than you on legal issues. And I sought out those opinions at a working group that Sen. (David) Long, our president pro tem, put together with Sen. (Dennis) Kruse, myself and other interested parties to try to ferret out all the different issues.
I have been personally researching this issue for many, many months, reading many, many different laws from the different states; the repercussions; and the arguments both pro and con to defend both positions. I think we have crafted a very targeted bill that will get the job done.
Q. What has this issue done to you, politically?
A. Well, I don't worry about that. I do what I think is right. And the people will be able to judge me in 2010 if I choose to run for another term.
I sacrifice a great deal of my time away from my family, my five daughters, to serve both my country as a commander in the Army Reserve and my state in the Indiana Senate. . . .
We are in a culture of political correctness that I think is unhealthy. I wish more people would have spine and backbone, including leadership in my own party. Because the people want that. People want strong leadership.