AMES, Iowa—The Castros left La Piedad, Mexico to escape drug warfare and violence. Laura Castro was 4 years old. Castro’s father wanted a better life for his family. Castro is now a sophomore studying psychology at Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa.
“If I stayed there, life would not be as good. I have a better chance of finishing school here, Castro said. In Mexico, school is much more expensive and jobs are much harder to find.”
Castro is a permanent resident, a legal status in the United States. Yet, Castro is faced with stares and questions motivated by her appearance.
“I have had experiences with people, even here at Iowa State, Castro said. This guy in my class asked if I was a good immigrant or bad immigrant. I responded I’m legal, if that’s what you mean. That made me feel uncomfortable.”
The surge of anti-immigration legislation that has appeared in six states has intensified fear-induced ignorance around the country.
Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB 56, anti-immigration legislation, into law in June. HB 56 joins the wave of anti-immigration reform that has swept up Arizona, Utah, Georgia, Indiana, and South Carolina.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Utah on Tuesday, Nov.22, challenging the immigration enforcement law.
“This kind of legislation diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a DOJ press release on Utah.
Federal courts blocked provisions of the immigration laws in Arizona, Utah, Georgia, and Indiana.
The DOJ, church leaders in Alabama and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits against Alabama. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta blocked parts of HB 56 from going into effect, Friday, Oct. 14, after a request from the DOJ, according to CNN.com.
As of now, Alabama state officials are no longer required to check the immigration status of students in public schools, and the “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration card” is no longer a misdemeanor.
Some controversial measures do remain in place. Police, during “lawful” stops, can “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.”
State courts are barred from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants if the employer had knowledge about the person’s illegal status. Illegal immigrants entering a “business transaction” are committing a felony.
HB 56 has faced opposition concerning the provision in which school officials were required to check students’ immigration status. The provision has been blocked, but the effects are still being felt.
“Statewide data has not been compiled as to how many students have fully withdrawn, though interviews in several districts suggest that number could be in the hundreds,” according to nytimes.com.
HB 56 has motivated an unknown number of illegal immigrants to not return to work.
The lost workers will cost the state of Alabama $40 million, according the University of Alabama.
Crops have been rotting in the fields, as many Latino workers have not returned to work.
Chad Smith of Smith Farms estimates he lost $300,000 due to labor shortages, according to the Center for American Progress.
“Hopefully, there is an attitude shift where people step up and want to take those jobs. There is a high cost, but you have to weigh that against the long-term benefits,” Stephen Quist said, President of ISU College Republicans.
The six states that have attempted to bring state-level immigration reform say the federal government has not done enough regarding immigration reform and enforcement.
“ ‘Does it really cause harm to the United States when a state informs the federal government of persons who are in violation of federal law, and then leaves it to the federal government to decide whether to initiate deportation proceedings?’ wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange,” according to CNN.com.
Those against HB 56 have brought allegations of racial profiling and unconstitutionality.
“There has been a whole movement to rid our country of anyone that is not like us. You have this huge racial stereotyping so that anyone who is brown gives reason to suspect, therefore they must be illegal,” Cornelia Flora said, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of sociology, agriculture, and life sciences at Iowa State University.
Legal residents and multiple facets of society face the consequences of HB 56, alongside illegal immigrants.
“We will see fewer and fewer of our Latino friends out in public, which is not good for any of us,” Flora said.
Iowa has not been swept up by the wave of anti-immigration reform.
“I think Iowans are more practical people. And we’re also family people and religious people, Flora said. And I think all those values will lead us not to do anything extreme, particularly against a group that is a really important part of our state.”
Iowa has avoided legislation like HB 56, but an immigration system that has resulted in hardship and heartbreak is still in place.
“They were so poor he didn’t wear shoes. This was all about getting a better life. It is so often,” Stacy Bastion said, an ESL teacher in Perry, Iowa in reference to a student’s husband. The student wishes to remain anonymous.
Bastion teaches a young woman who came to the United States from Mexico. She was seeking a life improved of constant threats from drug cartels and very little money.
The student’s husband was arrested for buying a social security number, as he was not making enough money for his family in the jobs he could acquire. He has been in detention since July 2011 and has yet to be released.
The student has worked at McDonald’s for eight years. New management changed her shifts to start at 4 a.m. She explained her situation of being a temporary single parent with two small children. Management told her to find a new job if she could not handle this one, Bastion said.
The student must come up with $7,500 to pay the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fines, so her husband can be released and help her take care of their two children. She is making little over $8 an hour at McDonalds.
Previous costs amount to $2,500 to a lawyer who did not produce any movement for the case, and $5,000 to the next lawyer. The future for her husband is uncertain, like the immigration reform wave.
Iowa is not a border state to Mexico. Immigrants in Iowa may feel less tension than immigrants in Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona. But, fear remains.
“I could see it happening in Iowa. Perry has had this situation for 30 years now. Right now things are all right. But if more jobs are lost, their tempers are stoked, I could see it happening here,” said Bastion, ESL teacher.
The larger issues surrounding HB 56 will be addressed in the coming months, and may ultimately go to the Supreme Court.
“One of the clearly laid out duties of the federal government is to protect us as citizens, and that’s where the issue is first,” ISU Republican’s President Quist said.
The federal government has recently acted on immigration reform.
“In August 2011, the White House announced that the Department of Homeland Security would, on a case-by-case basis, suspend deportation proceedings against people who posed no public safety threat,” according to nytimes.com.
“If the immigrant has a background of criminal activities then they should get deported, if not, let them be,” Castro said.