TOP 10 MIGRATION ISSUES OF 2007
Issue #7: US Cities Face Legal Challenges, and All 50 States Try Their Hand at Making Immigration-related Laws
December 3, 2007
Cities and states taking immigration matters into their hands — a trend that
began in 2006 in response to federal-level failure (see Issue #1: Political Paralysis: The Failure of US Immigration Reform)
— only gained momentum in 2007. Since the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania passed
its Illegal Immigrant Relief Act (IIRA) in July 2006, approximately 90 localities
have proposed more than 100 similar IIRA ordinances that would sanction employers
and landlords, and at least 35 have passed.
But cities face an uphill legal battle. In Escondido, California; Valley Park,
Missouri; and Farmers Branch, Texas, courts have temporarily blocked or permanently
barred these ordinances from going into effect.
And this past July, in the first such case that has gone to trial, a US District
Court judge struck down the Hazleton law on various constitutional and statutory
grounds. The case is on appeal, and may potentially reach the US Supreme Court.
In addition to the legal obstacles, the fiscal and economic impact of these
ordinances is gaining attention. In September, the township of Riverside, New
Jersey, rescinded its Hazleton-type ordinance, citing the fiscal burden of
Prince William County, Virginia, a fast-growing suburban area
southwest of Washington, DC, passed a narrower resolution in October to deny some
county services to unauthorized immigrants, and to give local police increased
powers to check their status.
A lawsuit challenging Prince William County's
policy has been filed. The Washington
Post has reported that a number of Hispanic immigrants, both legal and
unauthorized, have left the county since July (see Ones to Watch: New
Settlement Patterns), and that businesses catering to immigrants
have experienced losses.
The action at the state level reached a new milestone
in 2007. For the first time, all 50 states introduced a measure regulating
immigrants. Over 1,000 such measures have been introduced nationwide; 182
have become law in 43 states.
States' bills have focused overwhelmingly on employment and driver's licenses
and other forms of ID, but also on health, education, law enforcement, public
benefits, human trafficking, and voting.
Not all state and local measures are punitive towards immigrants. California,
for example, enacted a new law in October that makes it illegal for cities
to require landlords to check the legal status of tenants, making it the first
state in the country with such a law. Over the summer, New Haven, Connecticut, began offering municipal ID cards to residents regardless of status. In November, San Francisco passed a local law allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain municipal identification cards.
Perhaps the biggest state-level immigration controversy erupted in late October,
when New York Governor Elliot Spitzer's plan to offer driver's license to all
state residents regardless of legal status spilled into the Democratic presidential
debates. Under intense political pressure, Spitzer abandoned the plan altogether
The frustration with lack of progress on immigration reform at federal level
guarantees that legal and political scrutiny of laws at state and local levels
will continue in 2008.
2002-2013 Migration Policy Institute.
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