The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Local Immigration Measures Raise a Host of New Concerns

by Jessica Pupovac

Oct. 24, 2006 – With proposed changes to immigration law stalled in Congress, the nation’s city councils, state legislatures and courtrooms have picked up the slack to pass their own measures more quickly, albeit amidst just as much controversy.

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"We've never seen such high levels of immigration-related legislation being introduced and then passed," said Flavia Jimenez, immigration policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a nationwide civil-rights and advocacy organization.

The measures are expanding the national immigration debate to include questions about the limits of states’ authority in what has traditionally been seen as a federal matter.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 33 states have already approved laws this year limiting undocumented immigrants' access to state services and benefits such as adult education, child care or discounted college tuition.

According to a count by the Latino advocacy organization Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), ten towns have passed ordinances penalizing employers, landlords or others who help undocumented immigrants, and at least 29 more are considering similar legislation.

While diverse, the state laws passed thus far are almost exclusively anti-immigrant.

Some amend law-enforcement procedures. For instance, Colorado SB 90, passed in May, requires police officers to report suspected undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, except in cases of minor traffic violations or domestic violence.

While diverse, the state laws passed thus far are almost exclusively anti-immigrant.

Colorado HB 1023, passed in July, restricts public benefits, including health care, welfare, public or assisted housing, and food assistance to undocumented immigrants. Florida’s HB 7079, Maine’s LD 501 and Missouri’s SB 1001 make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain identification cards. Virginia’s SB 542 outlaws granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, regardless of the age at which they entered the country.

Local ordinances passed in Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Valley Park, Missouri and Riverside, New Jersey mandate punitive measures against landlords and employers for renting to or hiring undocumented immigrants.

Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research at the NCLR, told The NewStandard it is unclear if states have the jurisdiction to pass such laws.

Kris Kobach, former counsel to Ashcroft and current law professor at the University of Missouri, is defending states’ prerogative to enact laws concerning undocumented immigrants. He told TNS he is glad to see "states and cities stepping up to the task."

After coalitions of civil rights organizations, businesspeople and landlords challenged the legality of new immigration ordinances in Hazleton and Valley Park, Kobach helped re-write them. The City Councils approved both of the revised ordinances last month.

The new versions still penalize landlords and businesses that rent to or hire undocumented immigrants. But they require city agencies to verify people’s immigration status with government databases, instead of relying on the judgment of local authorities. The rewritten laws also invalidate complaints alleging a violation of the laws based solely or primarily on the basis of national origin, ethnicity or race.

"The new ordinances are more bulletproof and impervious to judicial attack," Kobach said.

César Perales, president of PRLDEF, told TNS that although the new ordinances have more legal standing, they are still too vague and expansive.

"No one would actually know when they might be violating it," Perales said. He added that PRLDEF plans to file a second complaint against Hazelton's revised ordinance

PRLDEF is representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed October 18 against Riverside alleging that the city does not have the authority to enforce the ordinance and that the ordinance could lead to violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which protects people from differential treatment based on race, color, national origin or nationality in employment or housing, as well as other public arenas

Other critics, like Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, warned that local immigration ordinances could violate the federal Fair Housing Act prohibiting rental discrimination. It might also violate the Civil Rights Act, which states that "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory to make and enforce contracts."

But in Riverside, the ordinance has had a chilling effect. Most residents contacted by TNS refused to comment. But David Verduin, a local business owner, said, "Everyone lives in fear."

Waslin, of the National Council of La Raza, explained that although her organization is "basically concerned about a person's ability to live and work in their community without being discriminated against," the real problem is currently the lack of action at the federal level.

"It is frustrating because it is states and localities that are bearing the brunt of failed policy," she said. "I think they are sending a signal to Washington that Washington has to act, but in the meantime, people are being harmed by these proposals."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Jessica Pupovac is a contributing journalist.

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