Editorials | Issues | August 2007
|Immigration Laws: Federal or Local?|
Domenico Maceri - PVNN
“The cruelty of this is astounding,” stated Kathleen Walker, national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Walker was commenting the anti-immigrant resolution passed recently by the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County in Virginia.
|Kids are kids and deserve healthcare regardless of their parents’ immigration status.|
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
With the failure of immigration reform at the federal level, local communities are going back to make their own laws to deal with immigration. Although a 1976 Supreme Court decision made clear that immigration is the “exclusive” power of the federal government, some local communities feel they have no choice but creating their own laws.
Prince County’s resolution is one of the harshest. It will prevent people without legal papers to use most government-funded services, including public swimming pools or check out books from a library. Local police will also be directed to determine the immigration status of individuals who are detained.
The first draft of the resolution would have been even much harsher. But supervisors were advised by the county attorney that federal law guarantees some basic rights such as emergency medical services to everyone. The resolution that was eventually approved also asks county agencies to monitor the situation and eventually make a list of specific services that can be denied and those that can’t.
The reasons for the resolution are typical of other communities that passed similar laws. Undocumented workers cause “economic hardships and lawlessness,” according to Prince William County Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr.
Do these local laws work? Although they don’t solve the problems they aim to address, these laws are not without consequences. The first one is to engender fear in the minds of undocumented workers. Some Latino parents in Prince William County are now afraid to send their kids to school although federal laws say everyone has the right to education regardless of immigration status.
The other effect is that supporters of these laws feel that they have done something to solve the “immigration problem.” In a lot of ways they haven’t since undocumented workers don’t come to the U.S. for government services. They come because of jobs. As long as jobs are available, people will continue to come.
Yet when they get jobs, they will also need support from housing to healthcare. And in cases where kids are involved education is vital. Often some of these kids are born in the U.S. and by law they are American citizens. There are more than three million such kids whose parents are undocumented workers. This situation complicates matters for everyone.
If denying benefits to adults may be acceptable in the minds of some people because these individuals committed a “crime,” innocent kids should not be penalized. As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated last year, “kids are kids” and deserve healthcare regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
But if these local laws certainly do not help undocumented immigrants, sometimes they do hurt local communities. The city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania last year passed a similar anti-immigrant ordinance, which a federal judge recently struck down. People began leaving the city and the local economy suffered significantly.
The State of Colorado also passed similar anti-immigrant laws and many undocumented workers left the state. Unable to find enough agricultural workers, the state government was forced to set up a program using convicts to pick crops. The same thing is happening in the state of Idaho.
The trend for local communities to pass their own immigration laws is not always a bad thing for undocumented workers. Although most local and state immigration laws aim to make life uncomfortable for undocumented workers, some do the exact opposite.
The city council of Hightstown, New Jersey, last year passed an ordinance welcoming immigrants. It’s sort of a bill of rights for undocumented workers, a no-questions-asked on immigration status. City services are provided to all residents. It’s not the only city to do so. A number of others across the country are imitating it.
These laws give hope to people and remind everyone that Americans haven’t forgotten their immigrant roots.
Domenico Maceri, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. He is the author of a book on Pirandello, one on Spanish grammar, and another on Italian grammar. He has also published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, some of which have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
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