The Battle to Localize Immigration Reform

The exasperated groans that echoed from Capitol Hill after
Congress’ recent immigration reform debacle have reverberated
across the nation into state and local communities. All sides of
the immigration debate are fed up with the federal government’s
stalemate, forcing the hand of local government officials to enact
their own immigration laws. While a federal judge’s ruling last
week could stop short local efforts to crack down on undocumented
immigrants, the public’s frustration persists and the battle over
immigration reform rages on, with or without federal initiative.

As the
Associated Press reports, the high-profile
Hazleton, Pennsylvania, ordinance that was just deemed
unconstitutional punished employers and landlords of undocumented
immigrants. US District Judge James Munley wrote in his ruling that
‘immigration is a national issue,’ and though the decision is not a
legal precedent, experts say it will likely encourage other cities
to abandon such laws to avoid a costly legal battle.

There are loopholes to constitutional arguments, though, such as
the route taken by Prince William County in Virginia. According to
Christian Science Monitor, the county
struck a deal with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
that allows local law enforcement officers to inspect the legal
status of people they pull over or arrest and send undocumented
immigrants to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) for deportation. So far, the DHS has made similar
agreements with 21 other state and local agencies and has
received the applications of about 75 more. Immigrants’ rights
activists, however, argue that such practices unfairly target
immigrants and inevitably lead to racial profiling.

Not all local immigration reform laws are aimed at cracking down
on illegal immigrants.
The American Prospect highlights
efforts in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, where city
officials are attempting to create a more inclusive environment
for all of their 125,000 residents by issuing a unique municipal
ID card.

With the ID card, the city’s undocumented immigrants —
estimated at 10 percent of the population — will be able to access
local public services, such as those provided at libraries, become
customers of a local bank, buy prescriptions, and more fully
participate in civil society. The city’s board of aldermen
president claims the policy was made out of practical rather than
ideological concerns and will benefit the city as a whole.
Supporters of the proposal say that, once supplied ID cards,
undocumented immigrants will be more likely to report crimes
because they’ll be less likely to fear deportation. It will also
allow undocumented immigrants to seek emergency medical care
without having to think twice about their status.

Michael Wishnie, a legal advisor to New Haven’s mayor, says that
‘[t]he failure of Congress to adopt comprehensive reform only makes
more important efforts at state and local levels to adapt municipal
and state policies to the needs of all residents.’ The municipal ID
card has garnered a number of admirers, including New York City and
other cities that are eyeing the program as a possible solution to
their own immigration concerns.

Go there >>
State and Local Illegal Immigrant Laws in Peril
After Ruling

Go there, too >>
More Communities Use Local Police to Enforce US
Immigration Law

And there >>
Offering Noncitizens a Local Identity

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