States Tackle Immigration Because Feds Won’t
Frustrated over the federal government’s continued lack of immigration enforcement, state lawmakers around the country have already proposed more than 350 immigration-related bills in the first two months of 2008.
The proposed legislation would crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, deny illegal aliens public benefits and driver’s licenses, increase penalties for illegal immigrants who commit crimes and boost cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
States with the largest number of proposals so far this year include California, Arizona, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Last year more than 1,500 laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration were proposed nationwide but only 240 were actually enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bipartisan organization serves legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, providing research on pressing local issues.
The reason such a low percentage of the bills were actually enacted is that many were legally challenged by immigrant advocate groups, leaving states and municipalities with the exorbitant cost of defending their legislation in court. In fact, cities across the nation spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend the legal challenges aimed at their laws last year.
They include Escondido California, Hazleton Pennsylvania, Valley Park Missouri, Riverside New Jersey and Farmers Branch Texas. The latest legal challenge to an immigration-related ordinance came earlier this year when Michigan passed a law that prohibits issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. A 13-page lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims denying driver’s licenses to all residents who live and work in the state is unlawful and unconstitutional.
The costly legal battles paid off for two local governments, which had their laws upheld by two separate federal courts. The first victory came last October when a judge dismissed a lawsuit against an Oklahoma measure limiting taxpayer-funded services and state identification cards to illegal immigrants.
A month later a judge dismissed a lawsuit against a suburban Virginia county’s (Prince William County) effort to crack down on illegal immigration by also denying them taxpayer-funded county services and requiring police to check the immigration status of all detained suspects.