Date: February 12th, 2024
To: Chairman Schnelting and Members, House Special Committee on Homeland Security
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, and Mallory Rusch, Executive Director
RE: HB 2470

As the largest and oldest anti-poverty non-profit in our state, Empower Missouri is committed to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts. Our Community Justice Coalition consists of community advocates and organizations from across the state who work with those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration. 

HB 2470 would create multiple new felonies, including: a felony of criminal trespassing for any person who does something in violation of a state law or a county or municipal ordinance and is undocumented; a felony for “concealing, harboring, or shielding” a person who is undocumented; a felony for encouraging a person who is undocumented to come to Missouri. It would also offer protections to any local or state government official, employee, or contractor who carries out these provisions in violation of federal law.

We are opposed to this bill as it creates a double punishment. Immigrants in our communities who experience even the slightest brush with the law can find themselves subject to detention for an undetermined period, after which they are expelled from the country and barred from returning. We are also opposed to the immunity clauses included in this bill, which open up our state to prolonged, expensive litigation. 

Immigration enforcement is the federal government’s job. What HB 2470 is attempting to do is to step into the federal government’s shoes and determine whether a person is able to remain in the United States. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution preempts state action where federal law expressly or impliedly precludes state action. Laws that conflict, or stand as an obstacle to the enforcement of federal immigration laws and policy, are invalid under the preemption doctrine. State and local governments cannot cite the failure of the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform as the rationale for adopting unconstitutional state immigration laws. State and local government officials, employees, and contractors are immune from any liability in carrying out these provisions, which should be a cause of concern for all Missourians.  There is no monetary limit on indemnity for state officials, and they will also be represented by the Attorney General, which means that Missourians will be bankrolling government officials who violate the Constitution of the United States of America. 

Adoption of state and local criminal laws against undocumented immigrants has often been driven by misleading rhetoric about “criminal aliens,” as well as by reliance on inaccurate statistics suggesting that all undocumented immigrants are criminals or a dangerous threat to communities. Local and state officials also often misunderstand the nature of the criminal provisions in federal immigration law. In fact, mere unlawful presence in the United States has never been a crime. When considering immigration reform legislation in 2005, Congress specifically rejected a provision that would have made unlawful presence in the United States a federal crime. Entering the United States without being inspected and admitted is a misdemeanor, but many undocumented immigrants do not enter the United States illegally. They enter legally but overstay, work without authorization, drop out of school, or violate the conditions of their visas in some other way. Mere undocumented presence in the United States alone, in the absence of a previous removal order and unauthorized reentry, is not a crime under federal law. Why are we treating it as such?

Use of law enforcement resources to target undocumented immigrants may have serious consequences for public safety. Given the evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other residents of the United States, law enforcement may find itself targeting a generally law-abiding population at the expense of investigating serious property and violent crimes. Additionally, state and county correctional facilities face severe understaffing, and any additional strain on the population of state prisons and county jails would be detrimental to the operation of these facilities. Public safety resources should not be diverted to enforce this law, which is in conflict with federal precedent. For these reasons, we urge the committee to oppose HB 2470. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.

Empower Missouri also submitted similar testimony in opposition to 2 additional bills creating new felony charges targeting undocumented immigrants, HB 2367 and HB 2523.

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