New PSN Report: The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed

New PSN Report: The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed

Today, the Progressive States Network is releasing a new report:

The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed:
Positive Integration Policies by States Still Far Outweigh Punitive Policies Aimed at New Immigrants

The Executive Summary is available online, as well as the full report in PDF and HTML format.

As we detail in the report, with most 2008 state legislative sessions at an end, we can take a step back and make a few conclusions about what happened in the states on policies affecting the immigrant population:

  • In a few states where right-wing conservatives controlled the legislature, they jammed through some laws creating punitive sanctions against undocumented immigrants.
  • However, in states where moderates or progressives had any significant influence, the momentum for anti-immigration legislation stalled and almost all anti-immigrant legislation failed to pass. 
  • In the states where most undocumented immigrants actually live -- California, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Florida -- no significant anti-immigrant legislation was enacted this session or last.
  • Largely ignored by the media, over the last few years, quite a few states have pioneered programs and laws to positively integrate new immigrants into our communities and address citizens' economic fears with raise wage standards for everyone, immigrant and native worker alike. 
  • In fact, when you look at what policies states have actually enacted, most undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted positive programs to integrate new immigrants and rejected punitive approaches to new immigrants.


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Real Solutions, Not Scapegoating, Begin to Win the Public Debate

The current hype around anti-immigrant policies is, unfortunately, about electoral politics.   Despite so few states actually passing anti-immigrant legislation, the remarkable thing is how much attention the media has given anti-immigrant politicians.  The media largely fell for the tactics of political opportunists who hoped to use the issue of immigration as a "wedge" issue, much as they have used gay marriage and other social issues to undermine progressive coalitions and support right wing politicians during elections. Yet the result has largely been political failure for right wing politicians trying to play the anti-immigrant political card. 

The bottom-line is that despite much media hype, the supposed wave of anti-immigrant politics has amounted to a few punitive laws in a handful of states, even as most states have quietly been moving forward with positive, integrative approaches to new immigrants in their communities. 

  • Many states, including those where most immigrants live, now provide in-state tuition (so-called DREAM Acts) for undocumented immigrants going to public universities. 
  • Others are promoting policies to integrate immigrants through English language instruction and assistance in navigating the citizenship process. 
  • A number of states are providing health insurance to undocumented children.  
  • And instead of trying to punish immigrant workers, states are increasingly working with native and immigrant workers to crack down on bad employers who are violating minimum wage, safety and workers compensation laws.


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Integrative versus Punitive Immigrant Policies in the States

The PSN report details what policies, positive and negative, that have been enacted in each state in recent years dealing with new immigrants.  States are grouped into six categories, based on whether they have promoted Integrative or Punitive immigrant policies.

What is striking is that, when you create a pie chart grouping these categories of immigration policies by the population of undocumented immigrants in each state, you find that only a small minority of undocumented immigrants are living in the states promoting punitive policies.

In fact, as the chart below from the report shows, only 11% of undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted comprehensive punitive immigration policies.


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Comparing Individual Policies

When you compare the implementation of individual policies, the dominance of positive state policies to integrate new immigrants over negative punitive policies in the states is even clearer. 

For example, the most highly debated punitive state immigration policy has been applying workplace sanctions against employers hiring undocumented immigrants and often criminalizing the undocumented immigrants themselves.

Yet far fewer undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted workplace sanctions than live in states providing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant children or in states promoting "New Americans" policies to promote English language instruction and help new immigrants navigate the naturalization process or live in states that have significantly increased their penalties for violation of their wage laws in recent years.  As the chart below indicates, where only about 16% of undocumented immigrants live in states with workplace sanctions, over 50% of undocumented immigrants  live in a state offering in-state tuition and nearly as many live in states wtih New Americans policies and in states with new, tougher wage law enforcement penalities.


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The main message of this report is that the media and many politicians have been paying too much attention to a few states enacting punitive policies, since they are the aberration, not the norm of policy dealing with new immigrants. 

The states with the largest numbers of undocumented immigrants — and notably the states that have the longest history in dealing with multiple waves of immigration over their histories — have been quietly promoting a whole range of policies based on integration of new immigrants, from promoting educational opportunities to expanding the safety net of health insurance to better enforcement of labor laws for all residents of those states.  Ideally, both the media and other states will spend more time understanding these positive policies in next year’s legislative sessions and less time buying into the hype of anti-immigrant activists and politicians.


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