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America's red-blue divide widens on illegal immigrants

The recent actions of Alabama and New York highlight how red states and blue states are heading in exactly opposite directions on laws about illegal immigrants. In this atmosphere, is federal immigration reform possible?

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"There is some party politics, some short-term electoral gains at hand, but by and large it has to do with the fact that [people] are a lot more receptive to anti-immigrant laws in places where they're not used to immigrants – and the opposite in places where they're used to having immigrants and where people understand the value proposition" behind welcoming immigrants, says Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

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That divergence is already having a tangible impact on immigrant families, farmers, and businesses in places like Arizona and Georgia, where crackdowns – despite the legal challenges pending against the new laws – are causing immigrants to take their muscle and spending dollars elsewhere.

Just as 100,000 undocumented immigrants reportedly left Arizona last year, an exodus from Georgia has also begun. Farmers are struggling to get fruits and vegetables out of their patches, and stores in Hispanic neighborhoods are seeing sales slide.

In north DeKalb County near Atlanta, an area where 74 percent of residents are Hispanic noncitizens, bus depots are seeing brisk business as undocumented workers prepare to leave ahead of July 1, when the Georgia law takes effect. Media reports suggest some are heading back to Central and South America, but others are getting on buses heading for New York.

"They're the most flexible part of the workforce. They'll go wherever there's work," says Wendy Sefsaf, communications director for the American Immigration Council in Washington, which supports humane enforcement of immigration law.

On the other hand, the law is achieving the desired effect, supporters say. Short-term upheaval in the labor market will be offset by the easing of pressure on schools, jails, and social services, they argue.

Meanwhile, politicians in states that are refusing to work with Secure Communities are facing different, but equally serious, political challenges.

The program could potentially have stopped at least one murder in Massachusetts, claims the Center for Immigration Studies, citing a recent case in the Bay State in which a foreign national using several aliases to avoid police fled the US back to Guatemala before he could be apprehended.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has rejected this line of thinking. "We will give up more than we get" with Secure Communities, Mr. Patrick said recently. "We run a serious risk of ethnic profiling and, frankly, fracturing incredibly important relationships in communities that are important for law enforcement."

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