States Push Local Immigration Policies amid Federal Shift

By Rachel Glickhouse

A number of states are pushing for local immigration policies, even as a change takes effect at the federal level giving reprieve to young undocumented immigrants.

Even as a new federal law becomes a reality this week, a number of states are pursuing their own immigration policies. On August 15, an Obama administration policy goes into effect that could allow up to 1.76 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation and apply for work permits. In June, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the policy, which follows parts of the DREAM Act—a bill that narrowly failed to pass Congress in 2010. Now, certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 with no criminal background may apply to defer deportation, paving the way to apply for permission to work legally. Applicants must have entered the United States before age 16, be in school or have graduated from high school, and been in the United States or had their legal status expire by June 15. But even as the plan offers a source of optimism for potential applicants, several states are moving toward new immigration policies that could be at odds with federal law.

Here are some examples of current state legislation that contrasts with federal policy:

  • Arizona, home to one of the country’s most controversial immigration laws, aims to enforce a now legally sanctioned part of the bill. On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down three parts of the law, known as SB 1070. But justices said Section 2B of SB 1070 could stand, allowing Arizona state and local police to check a person’s immigration status when stopping, detaining, or arresting individuals. Known as the “show me your papers” clause, the rule remains in legal limbo. On August 8, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—which upheld an injunction against SB 1070 in 2011—returned the case to Arizona Judge Susan Bolton. While local law enforcement hopes Bolton will overturn the injunction and allow the law to go into effect, she could maintain it; a new civil rights lawsuit against SB 1070 was filed in July, saying the law will result in racial profiling. Lawyers for Arizona’s government submitted documents to Bolton on August 10, and Bolton is expected to issue a ruling within the next few weeks.
  • In California, Assembly Bill 1081 would allow undocumented immigrants suspected of misdemeanors to be released after they are booked at police stations. This would override the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy that asks law enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants for 48 hours. In response to the bill—which passed the state Senate and is under consideration in the House—ICE issued a fact sheet defending its policy. “Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society,” it said.
  • Ohio’s House of Representatives is considering House Bill 580, introduced on August 12. The bill follows Section 2B of Arizona’s immigration law, upheld by the Supreme Court, which gives local and state law enforcement permission to investigate a person’s immigration status. Representative Courtney Combs, who introduced the bill, said: “Immigration is a great thing, but it’s got to be done right. It’s got to be done legally.”
  • Finally, in South Carolina, the country’s only state-based immigration police begin operations soon, reports The Herald. State lawmakers created the S.C. Immigration Enforcement Unit in March 2011 with the passage of SB 20, an immigration law similar to Arizona’s. Though ICE did not give the new unit permission to check suspects’ residency status, the unit is working with the federal agency. The six-officer group will investigate serious crimes committed by immigrants, including drug and human trafficking.

New state immigration legislation stems in part from the absence of comprehensive federal immigration reform, some say. Commenting on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s legislation, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said: “This decision tells us that states cannot take the law into their own hands and makes it clear that the only real solution to immigration reform is a comprehensive federal law.” As the Democratic and Republican parties prepare for their national conventions in coming weeks, some immigration reform advocates hope to get the issue in the national spotlight. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will visit Boston and Chicago, home to the respective campaign headquarters for Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. In those cities, he plans to frame immigration as an economic issue, since jobs are among voters’ top concerns leading up to the November election. “If we are going to create jobs in this country, we have to have immigrants,” the mayor told The New York Times on Sunday.

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