Not All States Target Immigrants or the Slightly Suntanned

Despite the commotion around Arizona’s SB 1070, a recent report shows that more laws expanding immigrants’ rights are being enacted than those contracting them. The Wilson Center’s study, Context Matters: Latino Immigrant Civic Engagement in Nine U.S. Cities, found that in 2007, 19 percent of 313 bills expanding immigrant rights were enacted and only 11 percent of 263 bills contracting rights were enacted by state legislatures. Washington, for example, passed SB 6403, which seeks to improve high school graduation rates by serving vulnerable youth, including recent immigrants. Andrew Selee of the Woodrow Wilson Center concluded that “most cities and counties are trying to figure out how they can best incorporate these immigrants,” many of whom are a “productive part of society,” rather than target them for deportation.

Earlier this month, New York Governor David A. Paterson announced that he would accelerate the consideration and granting of pardons to lawful immigrants faced with deportations because of minor criminal convictions. The governor’s pardon is the only thing that can prevent deportation in these cases, even if the authorized immigrant is married to a U.S. citizen and/or is the parent of U.S. citizen children.

To facilitate this initiative, Gov. Paterson is establishing a five member panel to review applications for pardons. Paterson stated that he felt “some of these charges are very minor in nature and some of these conversations go back beyond a decade for people who’ve demonstrated that they’ve lived productive lives in the interim…we’re separating these cases from ones where there are egregious crimes.”

Most recently, the city council in Denver, CO, passed a resolution yesterday to urge President Obama and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform by a vote of 9-1. Councilwoman Marsha Johnson explained that the bill was passed in opposition to Arizona’s law, and that immigration reform “cannot [be done] state by state.”

Earlier this year, New Mexico passed a similar resolution urging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes sufficient border security, family reunification, and a pathway to citizenship for our current unauthorized population.

Unlike Arizona, not all states take federal enforcement law into their own hands. Many states—often with higher immigrant populations like New York, Chicago and California—seek to integrate immigrants as productive members of their communities rather than target anyone who might look brown. Each year, immigrants—authorized and unauthorized—contribute billions of tax dollars to state and local coffers, not to mention the businesses they run and the money they spend in their local economies. Furthermore, as the Denver City Council points out, immigration reform cannot be done on a state by state basis, nor should enforcing federal immigration law be left up to the states.

Photo by Wietse?

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