Welcoming Immigrants in Missouri

Missouri, ranked 41st out of 50 states, is not a prime destination for immigrants. Its foreign-born population makes up only 3.9% of the total state population, a small amount compared to Illinois’s 13.9%, and yet they have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the state’s economy. If Missouri removed its unauthorized immigrant population, we would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity. Recognizing their huge economic impact, the city of St Louis has started a welcoming campaign to increase the area’s immigrant population, thus bolstering economic growth.

While the city and federal government are viewing immigration from an economic perspective, it is crucial to remember that each statistic represents a personal story. Stories of heartache and separation from friends and family, stories of struggle and adaptation to new cultures and environments. Stories of human beings trying to create a better future for themselves and their children. We could choose to reject immigrants, and push them away through legislation that punishes their legal status, or we could welcome them by creating policies that are inclusive, not exclusive of immigrant families, and correct the anti-immigrant rhetoric used in the legislature.

IFCLA, in partnership with the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), is working to promote the later with state legislators in Jefferson City, MO. On March 6th people from across Missouri will be meeting with their representatives to speak about four specific legislation affecting immigrants. We will be asking our representatives to support the SB 203, a bill enacted by Sen. Chappelle-Nadal to repeal Missouri’s anti-immigrant statute originally passed in 2008. This statute has been used to deny bail to ‘suspected’ undocumented immigrants, foster fear and mistrust between immigrant communities and police authorities, and prohibit undocumented students from attending local colleges and universities. In relation to education, we will also be urging support for SB 209, introduced by Sen. Justus that would grant in-state tuition to immigrants who graduated from a Missouri high school! Just like their peers, these students and their families reside and pay taxes in Missouri, and they deserve equal treatment and access to higher education.

We will ask legislators to oppose HB 275, a legislation requiring every employer in Missouri to register and use E-verify, an expensive and inaccurate program used to determine the legal status of a potential employee. The Social Security Administration estimates that 3.6 million Americans are misclassified by the e-verify database, particularly women whose last names have changed due to marriage or divorce, and documented, work-authorized foreign-born individuals. We’ll also ask legislators to oppose SB 267, a legislation that bans judicial consideration of any body of law outside of the United States. This has the potential to disrupt contracts based on foreign and religious laws, meaning contracts such as marriage, divorce, child custody agreements, and others, could be voided in a Missouri court. This legislation is unnecessary and harmful to all immigrants living in Missouri.

To make Missouri welcoming to immigrants, we need to do more than stop harmful acts, we need to create laws that are beneficial and fair to all persons living within the state, and create communities that welcomes the stranger. If you are interested in speaking with your representative on these important issues, please join IFCLA and MIRA on March 6th in Jefferson City.  You can register here and find more information at http://www.mira-mo.org/wordpress/.    

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