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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Forty-two states are involved in the program, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently sought to clear up confusion by saying participation is not voluntary. It will try to force states like Massachusetts to comply. But growing concern about Secure Communities' impact on people charged with minor crimes or who have no rap sheets whatsoever is driving opposition.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2009, the US deported a record 387,790 people, partly because of Secure Communities. Significantly, in California – which has America's largest immigrant population – a bill to opt out of the program passed a Senate committee in mid-June. The Assembly has already passed the bill.
Part of the reason for the hesitation among some states is an ongoing investigation into Secure Communities by the DHS Office of Inspector General, says Ms. Sefsaf. That's "why a few governors are now saying, 'Excuse me, I don't think I'm going to engage in this program until I understand it and you guys justify what you're doing,' " she says. "You're supposed to be deporting bad guy criminals, and we're finding out you're deporting busboys and nannies."
A looming showdown over Secure Communities between the White House and key Obama allies like Patrick threatens to shake key coalitions within the Democratic Party. Hispanic groups are growing frustrated with President Obama's unfulfilled promises of more comprehensive federal immigration reform.
They are pressuring the Obama administration to use the president's power of prosecutorial discretion to help keep undocumented families together and allow young people who have spent most of their lives in the US to remain.
"When immigration policy starts getting devolved into states and localities ... you have push and pull factors from different directions. That leads to noncohesive, fragmented, and confusing policy with strong impacts on local economics and on the lives of immigrants," says Muzaffar Chishti, an immigration policy expert at the New York University School of Law. "For a country that believes in national cohesion, to have fragmented immigration policy does not work. These developments ... have proven that."
Meanwhile, businesses are also speaking out against tough anti-illegal-immigration laws. Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama, for instance, demand that employers use E-Verify, a tool to check that workers are in the country legally. Businesses in those states now feel they are at a competitive disadvantage, as illegal-immigrant workers flee for other states.
Says Sefsaf: "From 10,000 feet, we're now seeing a crazy patchwork of laws in different states – it's getting to be very perplexing."