By Reynold N. Mason JD
Atlanta, Feb.4, 2011 The 112th Congress has been in office just one month. In that brief time the new Congress has stamped its distinct imprimatur on the federal immigration agenda. The about face on all matters bearing on immigration is impossible to miss. The tone of the immigration debate on issues of concern to immigrants has turned harsh and jarring. The single solitary word sympathetic to the plight of undocumented immigrants was uttered by President Obama in the state of the union message. We have heard his platitudes, meant to appease his Hispanic base before. The President lacks the courage of his convictions. He had in his power all the ammunition needed to overrun the fortifications erected by immigration hard-liners but, like a deer caught in the headlights, he froze. The immigration hard-liners, like sharks sensing blood in the water, attacked Mr. Obama after he had been wounded politically in the health care battle. Rendered timid, the President opined that Congress “did not have the stomach” for a fight over immigration. Supporters, disheartened by his retreat, stayed away from the polls while the republican base, buoyed by the President’s inability to shepherd his immigration agenda through a friendly Congress, turned out in droves, dealing the President’s party a defeat not seen in more than a half- century.
Hard-liners in the 112th Congress got off to a fast start. In the first 30 days the cherished right of birthright citizenship came under attack. Tea party Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, introduced a bill designed to alter the status quo, long taken for granted by immigrants. Immigration status, notwithstanding, every child born on U.S soil automatically became a citizen of the U.S. If Senator Paul has his way, children born in the U.S will not have automatic citizenship by birth. They will acquire U.S citizenship only if at least one of the parents, is lawfully present in the country. Senator Paul has supporters eager to join the fight. One group going under the moniker State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) has joined the senator in this battle. Led by Robert Metcalfe of Pennsylvania, SLLI consists of like-minded state legislators who view birthright citizenship as a menace to the republic. Their mission is to end it. They feel that it has become commonplace for people to cross the border into Los Angeles, and other border cities just to give birth in the U.S, thereby giving their offspring the gift of American citizenship.
The Immigration subcommittee is holding hearings and taking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to task for lax enforcement. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization not sympathetic to immigrants, has released its immigration reform agenda to the 112th Congress. The document lays out a roadmap for moving forward, (some would argue backwards) with immigration reform measures. Among the suggestions:
- Make E- Verify mandatory for all new job seekers.
- Broaden the “no match rule” under which employers are notified if their employees’ social security numbers do not match the records of the Social Security Administration.(SSA)
- Deny federal funds to cities that have sanctuary policies that direct police not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
- Prohibit employers from deducting wages paid to illegal aliens.
- Prohibit states from offering in-state-tuition to illegal alien students, under any circumstances.
FAIR points out those items on its agenda are by no means exhaustive; they simply highlight what it considers the most urgent priorities. Hard-liners are on the attack, instilling fear and fermenting insecurity in the minds of people already with much on their plates. Even more ominous, is the forecast in individual states, where pitched battles now rage over immigration. The indifference of the federal government to the plight of border States, as well as states mired in budgetary morass, has led to frenzied action to get tough on immigration. A virtual blizzard of tough new laws have been enacted or proposed in more than a dozen states; Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, and others have toughened their immigration laws.
In Kentucky, the legislature opened its session January 14th. Wasting little time, the Kentucky Senate passed an Arizona style law that empowers police to check immigration states of people they stop. The bill is on its way to the House of Representatives. In Texas, which shares a long border with Mexico, governor Perry has said that abolishing sanctuary cities is an “emergency item” that the legislature should deal with in the first 30 days of this session. Three of Texas’ largest cities, Austin, Dallas, and Houston have sanctuary policies. Although he concedes that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, Governor Perry insists that his state “cannot compound their failure by preventing Texas peace officers from doing their jobs.”
The trend is having repercussions in immigrant communities. The Migration Policy Institute, in a report last month, found that these new measures are exacting a toll on Hispanic communities. There are presently 1200 State and local officers trained by the federal government under the 287(g) program. These officers can arrest and detain illegal immigrants and hand them over to immigration authorities. The program resulted in the arrest of 100,000 illegal immigrants in the last two years. This is causing a decline in the Hispanic population of localities that participate in the 287(g) program. In Cobb and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia, the Hispanic population has declined. In Frederick County, Virginia, officials have reported that their Hispanic population has decreased by 61% after 287(g) took effect. Other counties Virginia, participating in the program had less precipitous decline in their Hispanic population. Prince Edward County lost 28% of its Hispanic population after 287(g) took effect. This is high tide for immigration hawks who gained 690 seats in State legislatures in the last election. In states where both legislative bodies are in republican hands, illegal immigrants are sitting ducks. Even in immigrant- friendly states on the east coast, the tide is turning against immigrants. In Maine, newly elected governor Paul La Page, last month signed an executive order ending Maine’s Sanctuary policy.
Pro immigration groups have their hands full. A spokesperson for the Maine Civil Liberties Union described the governor’s new order as “the first stop in an anti-freedom agenda”. The governor’s office made it clear through its spokesman that Maine intends to send a message to those who have heard that it is easy to get a driver’s license in Maine. Said the governor, “we have got many fiscal issues and I am intending to take care of Mainers first”. This is the message being sent, not just in Maine, but in dozens of other states and cities throughout the land. Essentially, the sign at the border that reads “Help Wanted: Inquire Within” has been taken down. In its place, a new sign has been posted; it reads: “Illegal Immigrants Not Welcome”.