As Obama Touts National Immigration Reform, Flurry of Positive Action in the States

On Tuesday, President Obama reiterated his hope for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech delivered in El Paso, Texas. Yet while federal reform remains stalled, many states have continued to push forward with advancing common sense approaches to immigration policy. In just the last few days alone, there has been a flurry of positive activity as states reject the destructive politics of scapegoating and division exemplified by Arizona’s SB1070 in favor of pragmatic solutions that will grow their economies and keep their communities safe.

Last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced that he would be pulling his state out of the controversial Secure Communities program. Despite its stated mission of deporting convicted criminals, the costly federal enforcement initiative has resulted in a disturbing number of deportations of non-criminal undocumented immigrants. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton responded with a visit to Springfield to defend the program, advocates were quick to support Governor’s Quinn’s decision to opt out of the program, which is supposed to be voluntary. Josh Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights pointedly noted, “This is not Libya. Director Morton does not have the power to issue decrees.”

This week in New York, a group of 38 lawmakers sent Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter urging him to withdraw the state from the program, two months after a similar letter was sent by other elected officials, including 19 New York City Council members. The officials applauded Gov. Quinn’s action in Illinois and urged Cuomo to follow suit, stating that “given New York’s immigrant heritage and our leadership role in the nation, we firmly believe that our state, too, must immediately end this destructive program.”

In Maryland, Governor O’Malley signed legislation on Tuesday granting in-state tuition to qualifying undocumented students at the state’s four year institutions. In doing so, Maryland becomes the 11th state to offer increased educational access and opportunity to talented and motivated immigrant students. Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, a member of State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy (SLPIP) and a longtime champion of the bill, celebrated at the signing, saying, “We've got guts. We were willing to go against the tide and stand up for something that is the right thing to do.”

It was also another bad week for Arizona-style copycat measures. Both of Florida’s immigration enforcement bills died as their session came to a close last week. This came despite the surprise, last-minute passage of SB 2040 in the Senate, a vote that was called with no floor debate, but did not advance further before the end of the session. In Maine, a copycat version of Arizona’s law was withdrawn on Tuesday by its sponsor, a clear sign that lawmakers are starting to consider the consequences of pursuing similar anti-immigrant bills that are nothing more than desperate stabs at political opportunism.

Finally, in Utah a federal judge blocked implementation of the state’s recently passed immigration enforcement bill on Tuesday, just fourteen hours after the law took effect. The ruling, following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center, deals yet another blow to questions regarding the constitutionality of immigration bills modeled after Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. The temporary injunction will be in effect until the next hearing, scheduled for July 14th.

By successfully advancing pragmatic state-based approaches to immigration, state lawmakers and other elected officials continue to build momentum for a comprehensive national solution to our broken immigration system.

Full Resources from this Article

As Obama Touts National Immigration Reform, Flurry of Positive Action in the States

White House – Building A 21st Century Immigration System
Progressive States Action – State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy
Immigration Policy Center – Tuition Equity Could Be Coming Soon to a State Near You
Progressive States Action – Immigration Policy Options 2011
Progressive States Network – Nine States Reject Broad Anti-Immigrant Bills

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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