PSN 2012 Immigration Session Roundup: Growing Consensus for Common-Sense Efforts as Anti-Immigrant Bills Lose More Steam


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(With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the fourth in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states.)

In 2012, state legislatures saw a dramatic decrease in anti-immigrant proposals and embraced a growing consensus around common sense, pro-immigrant policies in states across the country. This legislative session illustrated the decreased popularity of broad anti-immigrant proposals, as well as growing interest in targeted campaigns to introduce pro-immigrant policies, especially in states with growing immigrant populations. These policies, which underline the importance of cultivating all of our nation’s talented youth, protecting hard-won wages, and ensuring the safety of our communities, once again outnumbered misguided (and failed) attempts to enshrine racial profiling and deprive crucial industries of workers this year.

Two important developments in immigration policy from the federal government also shifted the landscape and conversation in the states. President Obama’s surprise June 15th Deferred Action announcement, which shields some undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to work legally in the United States, opens up a clear path for talented immigrant students to contribute to state economies once they receive a college degree. The announcement deflates traditional opposition to state tuition equity proposals, which previously branded the policies as impractical because they did not grant work authorization to undocumented college graduates. Now thousands of students accepted through the program will likely be able to legally work and in turn contribute to state economies upon graduating from college. The development ratchets up pressure on states to pass tuition equity proposals as eligible students stand ready to pay their way into higher education systems, which continue to suffer from dramatically decreased funding due to the slow economic recovery and long-standing budget deficits.

The Supreme Court also narrowed the role that states can play in immigration enforcement when they decisively struck down Arizona’s disruptive and economically devastating SB 1070. The Court underlined the federal government’s role in determining and enforcing immigration policy by striking down three of SB 1070’s four provisions while also sending a strong signal that the remaining provision, Section 2(b), will be susceptible to future challenges because it will inevitably encourage racial profiling. The three provisions that were struck down — prohibiting undocumented immigrants from seeking work, allowing warrantless arrests of immigrants for the suspicion of a deportable offense, and making it a state crime to not carry immigration papers — emphasized the role that the federal government must play in immigration enforcement and highlighted the growing reality that Arizona’s unconstitutional approach is far outside the mainstream of American values.

The Supreme Court’s decision notwithstanding, anti-immigrant forces still plan to reproduce the flawed “self-deportation” model in as many states as possible. The principal architect of SB 1070, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, not only led the charge to enshrine the harshest anti-immigrant plank in the national Republican Party’s history, but also announced that he intends to push the “papers please” 2(b) provision in Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Oklahoma and other states.

Tuition Equity: More Progress

Even before President Obama’s announcement that “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) would protect some DREAM-eligible youth from deportation, legislation that allows qualifying undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates was already gaining momentum in the states. DACA recipients will receive a two-year reprieve from deportation, a renewable two-year work permit, and, depending on the state, eligibility to receive driver’s licenses.

In a big step for these aspiring citizens, students began submitting applications for the program beginning August 15th. The program also re-emphasizes the need for states to pass tuition equity laws, ensuring that these talented students can access higher education and continue contributing to their states. DACA also neutralizes a common anti-immigrant argument against tuition equity laws: that allowing immigrant students access to higher education would be wasteful because they would be unauthorized to work in their states.

Twelve states already have tuition equity laws on the books, with an additional ten states moving the proposal this year. Though no additional states passed a tuition equity law this session, several states made marked progress with their bills. Colorado’s ASSET bill (“Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow”) made the most progress in the bill’s history — passing the full Senate as well as a House committee. State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy member Sen. Charleta Tavares introduced a bill in Ohio that made specific mention of President Obama’s announcement as a reminder of the economic and moral urgency underlying tuition equity efforts.

The urgency of developing all of our talented young people is well documented. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two-thirds of the occupations that are expected to grow the most rapidly by 2018 will require a college degree or some form of post-secondary education. Tuition equity proposals allow state education systems to prepare students to meet this need by getting an affordable college education. State tuition equity laws are not new ideas, and have been tried and tested in state legislatures as well as affirmed in the courts.

In 2013, look for re-introductions of bills in Colorado, Oregon, Florida, Ohio, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Community Policing and Pushing Back Against Ineffective Enforcement

Efforts to make immigration enforcement sensible and practical have turned into a powerful bill in California called the TRUST Act which could serve as a model for other states looking to move past the expensive and burdensome detention and deportation dragnet. After a 2-year campaign and strenuous efforts by advocates, the bill is still waiting for Governor Jerry Brown’s signature by September 30th.

The TRUST Act’s focus on building trust between community members and law enforcement statewide by prioritizing violent and serious criminals instead of casting a wide, expensive, and counter-productive dragnet has spurred many to call it the “anti-Arizona” approach. The TRUST Act is also a powerful response to the Obama administration’s flawed and controversial Secure Communities program (S-Comm). Originally conceived as a way for law enforcement to focus their efforts on serious criminals, S-Comm has been an unmitigated disaster. As of March 31st, 2012, a staggering 70% of the over 70,000 deported under S-Comm in California either had no criminal convictions or were picked up for minor offenses.

The flawed program also exposes U.S. citizens to extended detentions and, according to a series of newly released emails between California and federal officials, has been difficult to modify to protect non-criminals. Governors in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois challenged their state’s involvement in the program, highlighting the gap between S-Comm’s stated goals and the actual devastation the program has wrought on immigrant communities nationwide through widespread deportations. Several localities including Washington D.C., Cook County, and Santa Clara County have also weighed in against S-Comm by passing local detainer ordinances meant to refocus the program on its actual objective of keeping communities safe.

The pushback against state-level enforcement has reached a fever pitch across the country. As federal investigations of Sheriff Joe Arpaio outline the racially discriminatory practices his office has employed in Arizona, former State Senator Russell Pearce’s leaked emails recently exposed explicitly racist motivations behind SB 1070. Undocumented activists also brought their stories across the country with the Undocubus “No Paper, No Fear” ride that will make stops in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee before making a final stop at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Another tool to foster community trust in policing also captured headlines in 2012. An anti-racial profiling law, which monitors and seeks to counteract disproportionate arrests due to race or ethnicity, passed in Connecticut. The bill comes on the heels of a federal investigation of a pattern of racial-profiling in East Haven, which captured national attention. In Rhode Island, a comprehensive bill to combat racial profiling which rested on nearly 3 years of traffic stop data, failed to make it to the House floor. Finally, a thorough review of a 2009 New Mexico law prohibiting racial profiling has found law enforcement compliance utterly lacking. Community groups in the state have focused major attention on pushing compliance and clear procedures for reporting.

In 2013, look for community policing proposals to move in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York and for anti-racial profiling bills in Rhode Island and Washington.

Driver’s Licenses: Ensuring Safety and Saving Costs

A hot-button issue in previous years, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants have the potential to stimulate the economy by allowing immigrants to drive to work and contribute to state economies while also keeping our roads safe. Unlicensed drivers also increase costs for the entire pool of drivers. When New York considered a driver’s license proposal in 2006 the State Department of Insurance estimated that premiums would have saved New York drivers $120 million, a 34% savings.

Law enforcement officials also favor driver’s license proposals as a way to identify drivers and ensure that proper safety and insurance protocols are followed. Three states currently have driver’s license laws: Washington, New Mexico, and Utah. Legislators, advocates, and organizers have been successful in defending these policies for several sessions in Washingtonand, especially, inNew Mexico where Governor Susana Martinez has tried (unsuccessfully) to repeal it three times. In 2012, several states moved driver’s license bills, including California and Florida. A ballot measure in Colorado is also pending, as organizers continue to collect signatures.

Like tuition equity laws, driver’s license bills will take on a higher measure of urgency as the President’s DACA announcement has already prompted several states, including Virginia, Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio,to announce that youth who receive deferred action will also be eligible for driver’s licenses in their states. One bill proposed by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo in California will also try to capitalize on the announcement by enshrining the promise into law. He has until the end of August to garner support for the bill.

In 2013, look for bills in Oregon, where Governor John Kitzhaber hasalready given his approval of the bill in principle, as well as Connecticut, California, Colorado, Florida, Vermont, and Maryland.

E-Verify: Momentum Ebbs on Flawed Program

Efforts to impose the flawed, federal E-Verify program on states have mostly flopped in 2012. E-Verify is a federal pilot employment-verification system that filters a worker’s identification information through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) databases — in theory flagging as ineligible any worker whose information doesn’t match up with federal records.

After an ascendant couple of years for the policy, which has become highly controversial due its high error rate and job-killing tendencies, 2012 saw proposals to enact or expand mandatory E-Verify fail in 23 states and face vetoes in Minnesota and New Hampshire. A limited bill passed in Louisiana and a law mandating public contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify passed in Pennsylvania. The story on E-Verify has undoubtedly shifted, however; once a popular go-to policy for anti-immigrant forces, momentum on mandatory E-Verify has ebbed.

Huge opposition from the business and immigrants rights communities as well as stubborn, struggling state economies have weighed heavily on state legislators’ minds and manifested in strong opposition to the flawed federal program that has stunted growth in key industriesand been a hindrance to the recovery of state economies across the country.

Wage Enforcement: Promise for 2013

Another important legislative avenue in protecting immigrant workers garnered momentum in 2012, with promises of even bigger action in 2013. Proposals that seek to enforce wage and hour laws, enhance workplace protections, and crack down on employers seeking to duck paying payroll taxes by misclassifying full-time workers as independent contractors play a strong role in protecting workers, both immigrant workers.

It was a busy session in Louisiana as legislators passed laws protecting temporary workers from misclassification, ensuring easier access to employment and wage information, and forming a study commission in the Louisiana State Law Institute that will make recommendations on legislation to protect workers from wage theft, specifically wage liens.

Delaware passed a law that makes names of employers who misclassify workers widely available on the internet, while bills in Rhode Island and Washington aimed at ending the misclassification of workers in those states both passed one chamber. Finally, California still has time to pass a slate of wage theft bills that increase penalties for wage and hour violations, regulate fly-by-night-farm labor contractors, and improve paystub requirements.

Progressive States Network also released a comprehensive, graded state-by-state analysis of wage theft laws in America earlier this year. The report found that 44 states received failing grades for the status of their laws, a judgment likely to spur serious conversation and reform in 2013 sessions.

In 2013, look for bills that protect workers to build momentum and gain traction in Washington, Oregon, Maryland, and Vermont with bills also likely to be introduced in Nevada, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky.

State Work Authorization Efforts

In the last session, several states also attempted to address their states’ need for immigrant workers, through a variety of complicated and non-traditional methods. Though none of the proposals passed, legislators in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Vermont all proposed some version of a state-based worker authorization models.

While all subtly different, some worker authorization models aim to provide eligible undocumented immigrants authorization to work in the state after the worker, employer, or governmental body receives a federal waiver. Currently no federal waiver process exists for this purpose, nor is one expected — a major logistical hurdle for any of these proposed bills.

Of the states proposing work authorization bills, Kansas’ model is the most promising. According to the bill, the state, after declaring a labor shortage in an industry, would support applications for eligible undocumented immigrants to the Department of Homeland Security to receive deferred action and work authorization. If the applicant receives them from the federal government, he or she would be eligible for a driver’s license or state identification for themselves and immediate family members. Crucially, the worker’s authorization would be a portable — an important consideration since the federal “bracero” program was shut down in 1964 after the discovery of widespread labor violations tied to the threat of deportation which employers routinely held over immigrant workers’ heads. A bill in California, introduced by Assemblyman Manuel Pérez, also attempts to tackle state-based worker authorization — though it has recently been modified to limit its scope to the formation of a working group to explore the idea.

The current federal work authorization H-2 program is also badly in need of reform. The program routinely fails in delivering the appropriate amount of needed workers in critical industries and is also rife with labor violations — a review of 18 U.S. Walmart suppliers showed an alarming 622 federal citations for safety, health, and wage and hour violations.


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