Advocates for immigration reform are fighting for fair laws across the country. We’re lucky to have the chance to speak with some of them on their perspectives from the front lines. Today, I’m honored to share the work and thoughts of Karen Tumlin, Managing Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins carried out the following interview by email.
Please join Karen Tumlin in the fight for fair and compassionate immigration reform and welcoming national policies! Beyond this interview, you can learn the latest about immigration reform legislation or take action.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What personal experiences led you to fight for immigrants’ rights?
Karen Tumlin (KT): I grew up in Texas where issues of race, immigration, and equality were always apparent. That upbringing fostered my desire to work for true equality for immigrants in the United States. Immigration was also part of my family story. My mother immigrated to the United States from Canada in her 20s and despite her many privileges as a white, English-speaking immigrant she also experienced feelings of isolation and being an outsider. I grew up with a sense of the role both countries played in my own life and background—something I am grateful for. Without question, this personal piece also motivates me to fight for immigrants’ rights.
CP: What litigation work are you most proud of?
KT: I have been incredibly fortunate to be a small part of many amazing legal teams. But our work around Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, HB 56, holds a special place in my heart. After Arizona passed its noxious racial profiling law, SB 1070, several states followed suit but none as aggressively as Alabama, which went well beyond Arizona’s law. Among other things, the Alabama law included provisions requiring verification of immigration status of kids and their parents attempting to enroll in Alabama’s K-12 schools, made it a crime for Alabama residents to get the required state-issued sticker to be able to continue to live in their mobile homes, and led to denials of water service to individuals who could not prove they had legal permission to be in the United States. Along with our partners, we challenged these provisions in court. I am incredibly proud that by working with our brave plaintiffs, we were able to defeat each of these provisions and now immigrant children and families can enjoy these basic freedoms again.
CP: You fought strongly against Arizona SB 1070, the extreme anti-immigrant law implicated in racial profiling during law enforcement stops. A year after the Supreme Court ruled on the bill, how has that struggle affected the fight for immigrants’ rights on a national scale?
KT: I think the massive public outcry against these racial profiling laws in Arizona and elsewhere played an important part in catalyzing the current push for immigration reform at the federal level. As SB 1070 went to the Supreme Court, immigrant communities across the country stood up and spoke out against these laws. They were joined in their opposition by law enforcement leaders, religious leaders, and the business community. Importantly, we have not seen more of these laws, and instead lawmakers at the federal and state levels seem more and more to be coming together behind the notion that what we need is a commonsense solution to the immigration issues facing our nation, not local level laws that attempt to turn our fathers, mothers, teachers, and students into criminals.
CP: Recently, you testified in the Senate regarding the SAFE Act. In a nutshell, what would the SAFE Act do? Do you see it becoming law?
KT: The SAFE Act is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that is, quite simply, the wrong approach to immigration reform. It would put a federal seal of approval on state racial profiling laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 allowing states—and even any locality—to create their own state crimes for immigration offenses. This would obliterate federal control and oversight of our immigration system and inevitably lead to widespread constitutional violations based on racial profiling and unjustified detentions. The SAFE Act would also turn virtually every undocumented individual in the country into a criminal overnight—simply for being present in the country without permission. I am hopeful that this wrong-headed piece of legislation will not become law because it does nothing to create the commonsense reform that we need for our communities and families.
CP: What are you most excited about in terms of ideas coming from the House of Representatives?
KT: I am hopeful that we will see a bipartisan immigration bill that addresses our country’s needs by creating a roadway for citizenship for the millions of aspiring Americans in our communities and provides critical improvements to our legal immigration system to promote the interests of our families and our economy. I am glad to hear a growing chorus from members on both sides of the aisle recognizing that immigration reform without a road to citizenship is simply not reform at all.