Amidst a deep economic recession and a growing climate of fear and alienation within immigrant communities, many states, cities and counties that “plunged into the immigration debate are having second thoughts,” reports USA Today.

In states like Texas, Alabama and elsewhere, hard-line immigration legislation has been repealed or modified by lawmakers that have come to terms with the fact that the time and expense associated with implementing such policies has made their anti-immigrant position less popular among their constituents.  In Iowa and Utah, legislators are proposing similar reversals.  Accusations of racism and a surge in anti-immigrant hate crimes are also cited by USA Today as reasons for the about face.

Judith Camp, a city councilwoman in Oak Point, Texas, who voted to kill the city’s English-only resolution in December told USA Today:

“For us to spend our time pitting neighbor against neighbor was a sacrilege…We’re just a tiny little city and we were getting a lot of negative publicity.”

The measure, which was adopted in 2007 on a 3-2 vote, was repealed with a 3-2 vote.

Several other examples throughout the country were also identified by USA Today:

  • In Iowa, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Hunter wants to repeal a law that makes English the state’s official language and requires most government documents to be in English. “It’s really sent out the wrong message about the state of Iowa,” he says.
  • The Madison County (Ala.) Commission last August toned down a policy that requires businesses bidding for contracts to sign a pledge saying they don’t knowingly employ illegal immigrants. The change was part of a settlement with a company that was late in submitting the pledge and did not win the contract. The new pledge no longer says county officials can inspect contractors’ personnel records.
  • In Utah, two legislators, one from each party, have proposed delaying implementation of a bill with provisions that include a requirement that government agencies check the legal status of new hires against a federal database. Republican state Rep. Stephen Clark, author of one proposal, wants to delay the bill for a year to study the economic impact of illegal immigrants on the state. “We are in the process of making major cuts all across the board in government, including public education,” says Clark, who puts the cost of implementing the immigration law at $1.7 million. “We believe now is not the time to invest that money into this issue, especially when we don’t know whether illegal immigration is a financial plus or minus to the state.”

Several public figures are also starting to change their tune on immigration-such as New York’s new Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand who after “learning more” and “expanding” her “view,”  has recently indicated that she’s rethinking her hard-line approach to immigration and opting for more pragmatic solutions.  Even Corey Stewart, Prince William County’s [Virginia] infamous Board of Supervisors Chairman who once set the gold standard for local law enforcement “crackdowns” on the immigrant community has taken a step a back in response to “plummeting home values, statewide Republican electoral defeats and widespread economic instability.”

Yet there are still some places that are desperately clinging to their costly and ineffective policies.  Farmers Branch, Texas is still willing to spend $1.6 million to fight lawsuits challenging its effort to prevent undocumented immigrants from renting apartments and houses-1.5% to 2% of the city’s budget.  Meanwhile, residents of Carrollton, Texas want their city to do what it can under federal law to regulate undocumented immigration, but they don’t want increased taxes or cuts in services to pay for it-a fiscally unfeasible demand.  Maricopa County in Arizona has quite possibly received the most scrutiny for rising crime rates, racial profiling, and creating a $1.3 million deficit in just three months as a result of its implementation of the 287g program-which gives local law enforcement the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.  Yet, under the leadership of media hound Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the county continues to be a site for the exploitation of “widespread frustration with our current immigration system for political and publicity goals.”

Yet, while many communities are taking it upon themselves to address immigration as they see fit, it’s up to Washington to address the issue once and for all.  President Obama and congressional leaders need to enact realistic immigration reform legislation so that law enforcement and criminal justice resources can start being diverted away from penalizing non-criminal immigrants and terrorizing immigrant communities and towards getting our country back on its feet.

Photo by jvoves.