Tough times ahead for immigration
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Tough times ahead for immigration

January 20, 2011, 6:31 pm
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The fight over immigration has shifted to the states
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By Reynold N. Mason JD

There is nothing but bad news coming from the immigration front so far this year. The pitched battle over immigration reform ended in December with the defeat of the Dream Act in the Senate. President Obama, who had campaigned on a platform, one part of which was immigration   reform,  met with Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHP) after the Dream was defeated.  He told the CHP he would continue to push his immigration agenda and, would use his veto to derail anti- immigration legislation reaching his desk.

            But the forces arrayed against immigration reform are formidable.   A new group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration, (SLLI) led by Rep. Darryl Metcalfe, of Pennsylvania, has launched a movement aimed at “anchor babies.”  SLLI wants to end automatic U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants.   The new Congress, with its large republican majority is unsympathetic.  Many newly minted congressional republicans were explicit in their campaign about their stance on immigration.  It is hard to find among new republicans, a solitary soul sympathetic to the cause of illegal immigrants.  The republican approach is enforcement first. That means heavy security on the southern border, the use of electronic verification (e-verify) to weed out unauthorized workers, and punishing companies that hire unauthorized workers. The record  set for deportation by the Obama administration last year is in jeopardy.  By all indications, the new congress and the states are poised to make things difficult for anyone attempting to enter or remain illegally in the country.

More states are about to enact Arizona style immigration laws, giving authorities the power to demand that people stopped by police prove their immigration status.  Copycat laws have been introduced in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.  Some of these laws make it a crime to simply be in the state without papers or to solicit employment at places like Home Depot, or on the public street.

                     States are enacting Arizona style immigration laws

In Georgia, legislators began targeting illegal immigrant’s weeks before the new session opened. They began pre-filing bills to stop illegal immigrants from attending state schools, and to punish government contractors who hire illegal workers.  Already, many  localities in Georgia participate in the 287(g) program, which allows cities and towns to arrest and hand illegal immigrants over to immigration authorities.  And new programs are being implemented to ensure the identity of people applying for public benefits.  Rep. Ramsey, the co-chairman of the Georgia Joint House-Senate Committee of Immigration Reform, is considering introducing an Arizona style immigration law.  Georgia is not alone.

            Legislators in several other states say they would propose an Arizona style law to fight illegal immigration.  In Pennsylvania, bills to penalize contractors and revoke their licenses have passed the house but failed in the Senate.  Governor Corbett, when he was Attorney General, filed a brief supporting the Arizona law.  In South Carolina, an Arizona style bill has been introduced and awaits consideration in this session.  Newly elected Governor, Nikki Haley, supported the Arizona law.            

     In Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, Arizona style laws have been introduced, or proposed.  Governor Rick Scott of Florida, supported Arizona’s harsh immigration law, and campaigned on the issue.   The governor of Idaho, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Heinemann of Nebraska, and Mary Fallen of Oklahoma, all favor Arizona style immigration laws, and are expected to sign the law if it reaches their desk.

            Opponents are not sitting on their hands. They have launched a counter attack. They say that repealing birthright citizenship would be unconstitutional, because U.S citizenship is the exclusive province of the Federal government, not the states.  In spite of this legal claim, the chances are good, that one or more bills will be enacted, denying birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.  Social and economic issues are driving the anti-immigrant agenda.  Rightly or wrongly, many blame illegal immigrants for crime and sundry social malaise.    The indifference of the Federal government and, its failures to restrict the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, has left states frustrated.  Because of this, the political battle on illegal immigration has shifted to the states.  It is not going to be a fair fight.  Republicans gained control of many statehouses and legislatures last November.  Across the country they gained 690 seats in the state legislatures.   With republicans in control of so many governors’ mansions, these measures have a good chance of success.  Said Thomas Saenz of the Mexican Legal Defensive Fund,   “This is going on everywhere.  We have sued to stop legislation like   this across the country and we will continue to do that.”     It seems he will need an army of lawyers.   


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Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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