Hundreds protest immigration reform proposals

Organizers created a Facebook page to spread the word about the rally
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Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Protestors came to the Indiana Statehouse for what they called a "no hate" rally. Their issue is a package of bills similar to the tough new immigration laws in Arizona.

One bill requires English-only public meetings. Another would prohibit tax-subsidized tuition for illegal immigrants.

Immigration is one issue that seemed to take a back seat to all of the demonstrations for labor and House Democrats currently working in Urbana, Illinois. Tuesday, with the House still in disarray, illegal immigration surfaced again.

The rally on the south steps of the Statehouse may be only one indicator of how people feel about Sen. Mike Delph's legislation.

"We are very much against it," said Craig Hughes, who owns St Elmo's Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Hughes is one of many, including Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, who believe the bill sends the wrong message - especially since central indiana just expanded its convention center.

"Spent $245 million in expanding the convention center and here we are with four committed confirmed major groups coming to Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association that are going to walk away from that commitment based upon our stance on the immigration issue," said Hughes.

Hughes says while no one is for illegal immigration, he believes it is a federal issue.

"We have to understand the relative need for diversity, employment needs that do exist and are real. We have to be open-minded and with some work and people getting together and coming to some sort of a compromise I think that issue can be tackled pretty well," he said.

"We are advocating for our rights, for our ability to live in dignity. Documented and undocumented we will stand together to fight these bills but we will make sure this never happens again," said Alicia Neives.

Inside the Statehouse, the bill author says illegal immigration is costing Indiana taxpayers $10 million a year in our state prisons.

"I think the totality of the bill will lead to self deportation for those who are unlawfully in the country and quite frankly, Hoosier taxpayers should be have to fund the final costs and burdon for those who have chosen to break our law," said Sen. Mike Delph.

Minority Democrats stood with the demonstrators on the steps and offered their support.

"How embarrassing is it for someone's political gain to have someone taking advantage of the bigotry and racism that still exists in our society? How embarrassing," said Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville).

For his part, Sen. Delph says allegations that his bill would cost the city in tourism dollars after it invested $275 million to expand the convention center should not carry any weight.

"I don't think the state of Indiana should be held hostage by outside groups threatening to cancel conventions. I think we need to stand up for the basic principal for the rule of law. We should put principal ahead of profit," said Delph.

Outside the capital demonstrators touted a very different viewpoint.

"We will never forget the lawmakers who voted for these bills that seek to destroy our futures," said Neives.

More about the bills

The effects of House Bill 1042 would be felt on the campuses of Indiana's state-funded universities. It is a very short bill prohibiting what it refers to as "illegal aliens" from paying the in-state tuition rate at public institutions. That would roughly double the tuition costs of attending IU, Purdue, Ball State and other tax supported schools for students who are not lawfully present in the United Sates.

The second bill is Senate Bill 590. This is a 77-page proposal that is getting the most attention. It would require more stringent enforcement of federal immigration laws by state agencies. The bills most controversial aspects would permit police to verify citizenship or immigration status and detain people, institute an English only policy for public meetings, and impose sanctions for businesses hiring "unauthorized aliens".

590 easily passed the Senate. 1042 hasn't had a vote yet in the House.