The New York Times published a series of maps illustrating the different ways in which states either attempt to welcome immigrants into their communities or go out of their way to make them feel unwelcome. The main indicators include which states have a policy allowing undocumented immigrants to drive legally; which provide undocumented students the opportunity to pay the same in-state tuition rates as their native counterparts; which have passed laws that specifically allow law enforcement to inquire about immigration status; and which side each state has taken with respect to the President’s plan to offer temporary deferred action to four million undocumented immigrants living across the country—basically, which states are suing to stop it and which are supporting it.
The maps reflect fairly consistent views and policies on undocumented immigration. Those that are typical immigrant-receiving states tend to have more welcoming policies, while others with fewer immigrants or less of a tradition of receiving immigrants take a more punitive approach.
Notwithstanding their positions, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that states believe they have a role to play in shaping immigration policy—an area of policy long considered a federal prerogative. Whether immigration lawmaking is something states want to do or something they simply feel compelled to take on due to Congressional intransigence on immigration is unclear. However, there is no doubt that in many ways states are now at the helm.
The New York Times cites California for how prolific it has become in the immigration policy-making realm:
“California is home to the largest population — about 1.2 million people — eligible to benefit from the president’s actions. And it has been the most active state in passing laws to make life easier for undocumented immigrants, with 26 new laws in 2014 alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California now allows those immigrants to drive, practice law, and attend college at in-state rates. The state also passed a law limiting police cooperation with federal enforcement of immigration laws.”
California Attorney General, Kamala Harris explains why:
“We acknowledge in California what we have to acknowledge as a country… Let’s get everyone on board with the fact that they’re here and we’re not going to deport them. Let’s figure out how to transition them in and get them to the point of assimilating.”
However, it’s not only California or even only officials at the highest levels of state government moving the ball forward. It is mayors, city council members, and other local elected officials who are continuing to pursue immigration policymaking that seeks to fully realize the benefits of immigration. This makes sense. After all, foreign-born members of our communities live, work, and worship side by side with natives every day and in every part of our nation. Their kids attend local schools, they work and start businesses in local communities, and they live on our streets and shop in the same stores as everyone else. In a sense, local and state governments have the most to gain from bringing the best out of all of their residents. Implementing state and local policies that seek to bring the best out of everyone including our immigrant neighbors are not just practical, they are leading the way. If Congress wants to be taken seriously again when it comes to devising rational and practical solutions to immigration, they should look at how the locals are getting it done.
Photo by Nick Aldwin.