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As the specter of SB1070 haunts Nebraska, the case for dropping the I-word becomes stronger

This summer, while the nation was in the throes of the debate around Arizona’s harsh immigration law SB1070, the small town of Fremont, Nebraska, decided to take immigration law into its own hands,  passing a law banning landlords and employers from renting and hiring people without adequate documentation.

It’s a precursor to the the anti-immigration dialogue running through the state of Nebraska, despite bring sparsely populated, enjoying relative economic stability, and not being positioned on the border. Dave Heineman, currently in the running for a second term as Governor of Nebraska, has been pushing for stricter immigration laws since he first ran for Governor four years ago. After an unexpected victory the first time around, the Republican Governor has made his opposition to immigration the central issue of his second campaign. Poised for re-election, he recently announced that a law closely modeled on Arizona’s SB1070 would be the first item on his agenda, were he to be elected as Governor again.

Following the support he received from Nebraskans over the Fremont law, and the sharp increase in his popularity ratings following his focus on immigration, Heineman is determined to push for a law that makes it easier for local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants. He told the New York Times about his commitment to the issue-

I’m very adamant about this — the federal government has failed to solve the immigration issue…Next January I believe in every state in America there will be an Arizona-type law introduced.

Ironically, it was after two Republican officials – Chuck Hagel and Mike Johannes – worked to ensure that Federal authorities did not impede the hiring of undocumented people in Nebraska ten years ago that the state saw a rapid influx of foreign born residents, most of whom came to find work in the numerous meat-packing plants across the state. Although the state’s immigrant population grew by 40% since 2000, it was only after Heineman became Governor in 2005 that the negative discourse around immigrants began to gather momentum. In addition to the Fremont law, Heineman has been pushing to revoke in-state tuition rates for those college students who grew up in Nebraska but are undocumented. He been successful in his efforts to end prenatal support for pregnant women who do not possess adequate documentation, as well as put in a system of mandatory checks that ensures against benefits for those who might be undocumented.

While human rights groups, politicians, lawyers, and the Presidential administration itself, not to mention thousands of activists, athletes, artists, and individuals around the country worked hard to prove that laws such as SB1070 are unconstitutional, inhumane, and detrimental to the overall stability and success of the country, there are still people such as Governor Heineman who think otherwise.

It is important that we put an end to divisive politics and favor respect and human rights for all. The Applied Research Center is countering anti-immigrant discourse through Drop the I-Word, a national public education campaign focused on eradicating the racial slur “illegals” from media use and public discourse. The ‘I-word’ is a damaging term that divides and dehumanizes communities and is used to discriminate against immigrants and people of color. It is shorthand for “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant” and other racially charged terms. The campaign redefines how we treat each other through a cross-generational, multiracial initiative aimed at raising the commitment to human rights, dignity and racial justice for all people.

It’s time to Drop the I-Word as a designation for our neighbors, children and families. Are you listening, Nebraska?