Policies Advance in States

September 4, 2013

Gebe Martinez, 703-731-9505, [email protected]

Inclusive Immigration Policies Advance Dramatically in the States

LOS ANGELES — While Congress debates whether to vote on immigration reform this year, state legislatures have enacted laws that expand immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses, education, and workers’ rights and that promote community policing policies, according to a new analysis by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

In a striking reversal from state legislative sessions of the previous few years, when several states enacted anti-immigrant laws modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070, most of which have been successfully challenged in court, only one state, Georgia, enacted a restrictive measure in 2013. That law bars the use of certain documents to establish identity.

“Rather than promoting a larger role for states in immigration enforcement, proposals in several states sought to build trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities,” the report states.

“Congress should heed the lessons learned in the states. States have learned that scapegoating immigrants can harm all of a state’s residents and, on the other hand, that investing in immigrant students, workers, and families yields economic and social benefits for the community as a whole,” said Marielena Hincapié, NILC’s executive director.

In Congress, the House Judiciary Committee has approved the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act (H.R. 2278) and sent it to the House floor. The SAFE Act’s provisions focus one-dimensionally on immigration enforcement in ways that would actually promote racial profiling and unconstitutional detentions without fixing the broken immigration system’s myriad problems. This House enforcement-only bill would authorize states and localities to create and enforce their own penalties for immigration violations. The bill directly contradicts the spirit and substance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States, which affirms the longstanding exclusive authority of the federal government to regulate our nation’s immigration laws rather than having a patchwork system of state immigration enforcement laws.

Enactment of a law such as the SAFE Act would be a step backwards for the country and would be in stark contrast to the more inclusive direction states have taken this year.

Among the inclusive immigration laws and policies adopted by states this year:

• Seven states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will provide access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.
• Five states expanded access to higher education for immigrant students.
• One state enacted a domestic workers’ bill of rights.
• Two states and several localities enacted laws or policies aimed at building trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

The NILC report, whose title is “Inclusive Policies Advance Dramatically in the States: Immigrants’ Access to Driver’s Licenses, Higher Education, Workers’ Rights, and Community Policing,” attributes the shift in state polices to increased civic engagement and organizing by immigrant communities. According to the report, “In places where earlier waves of anti-immigrant activism produced restrictive policies, residents increasingly find that the policies are unworkable legally, practically, and politically, which is motivating them to explore more inclusive alternatives.”

The report can be downloaded from www.nilc.org/inclusive-policies-advance-2013/.

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