Immigration Battles in 2011 will Shift to States

January 4, 2011 05:53

With the possibility of a stalemate in Congress over immigration issues, legislators in at least half a dozen states are moving to approve laws similar to the one adopted by Arizona last year, according to a story published in The New York Times.

According to the story the states have initiated plans to implement tightened controls over undocumented workers, and in some cases impose draconian measures on those caught with proper papers to live and work in this country.

The NYT said that among the measures being considered are:

· Measures to limit access to public colleges and other benefits for undocumented immigrants and to punish employers who hire them.

· An unusual coordinated plan by five states to cancel automatic United States citizenship for children born in this country to immigrants without the proper papers to live and work in this country.

And as with recent attempts to enact a new and reformed immigration policy at the federal level, or as it happened when Arizona approved its law last Spring, the debate is already at a fever pitch.

According to the NYT story published December 31, those opposed to the coordinated five state proposal say that granting citizenship resides with the federal government, and not with the states. Still with Republicans gaining more than 690 seats in state legislatures nationwide, putting them with the strongest control of governments at the state level in more than 80 years, many of these laws might be enacted and then challenged in court.

Experts on immigration issues believe that the issue will be discussed at the state level because passage of any meaningful immigration reform at the federal level will be most unlikely.

When the 112th Congress is sworn in January 5, Republicans will have the majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats will still control the Senate, albeit with a much small majority as Republicans now have 47 of 100 seats in the upper chamber.

Most Republicans believe any attempt at immigration reform must start with absolute control of the border, for national security reasons and to prevent more undocumented workers from crossing the border into this country undetected.

Democrats, in the meantime, have been using the immigration law for political purposes. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought up the so called DREAM Act in the lame-duck session of congress mainly for political purposes. He knew it would not pass, but he wanted to see Republicans prevent it from coming to a vote to gain favor of Hispanic voters.

Agreement on immigration issues will be harder to achieve, particularly if Democrats insist on using it as a wedge issue to attempt to divert Hispanics from voting for Republican candidates.

State lawmakers say when Congress fails to act, the state’s must fill in the void.

“The federal government’s failure to enforce our border has functionally turned every state into a border state,” Randy Terrill, a Republican representative in Oklahoma who has led the drive for anti-illegal immigration laws there, told the NYT. “This is federalism in action,” he said. “The states are stepping in and filling the void left by the federal government.”

According to the NYT these proposals from states like Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, already have drawn opposition from some business groups.

At the same time the paper adds that the measure is forcing strategic soul-searching within the Republican Party nationwide, with a rising populist base on one side demanding tough immigration measures, and, on the other side, traditional Republican supporters in business and a fast-growing Latino electorate strongly opposing those measures.

The two sides of the argument within the Republican Party can be seen by what is happening in Utah and what is taking place in Oklahoma.

In Utah, a state dominated by Republicans, leaders from business, law enforcement, several churches and the Latino community sought to bridge the divide by joining together in November in a compact urging moderation on immigration issues, the NYT said.

But in Oklahoma, where Republicans won big majorities in both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, Terrill said he would introduce a bill he called “Arizona plus.” In addition to the terms of Arizona’s law, it would allow for the seizure of vehicles and property used to transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

Experts see there is little from the states enacting these new laws. But they add that they will also be challenged in court, and it will be the federal court system that decides what new immigration laws are constitutional and which ones are not.

“The Republican Party is divided between those who see that Hispanics are an essential constituency going forward, and those who don’t see that,” Tamar Jacoby, a Republican who is the president of Immigration Works USA , a business coalition that supports legalization for illegal immigrants told the NYT.

The Americano/Agencies

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