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U.S. State and Local Governments Respond to Federal Inaction on Immigration

U.S. State and Local Governments Respond to Federal Inaction on Immigration

With the U.S. Congress unable to reconcile vastly differing views of immigration legislation (see Issue #3: U.S. Immigration Reform: Better Luck Next Year), the city of Hazleton, in eastern Pennsylvania, decided to act, passing its "Illegal Immigration Relief Act" in August. In the process, Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta became a hero to frustrated citizens nationwide, and the city took the lead in a new trend: local governments passing ordinances intended to discourage the employment and settlement of unauthorized immigrants.

These communities are struggling to cope with large numbers of legal and unauthorized immigrants attracted by jobs and the quality of life they offer. Approximately 50 local governments have considered Hazleton-style laws, with about a dozen taking action.

Thus far, the Hazleton law and others like it have not been implemented due to legal challenges. In November, a federal judge imposed a restraining order that prevents Hazleton's immigration law from being enforced for four months so that a lawsuit filed against the city can go to trial.

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Even if such laws are eventually ruled unconstitutional, the symbolism is proving effective: Hazleton claimed in a September press release that it had already seen "a reverse migration of illegal immigrants and a drop in crime and other social costs associated with the phenomenon."

At the same time, numerous state legislatures have debated measures covering everything from the accessibility of health benefits by and driver's licenses for unauthorized immigrants to verification requirements for employers. As of October 31, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, 570 pieces of legislation had been introduced; 90 passed legislatures; and 84 bills in 32 states were signed into law — more than double the number of 2005.

In the November elections, Arizonans voted overwhelmingly for four immigration-related propositions, including Proposition 300, which bars unauthorized immigrants from using state funds for child care and education, and Proposition 103, the state's second attempt to make English Arizona's official language (a 1988 measure was overruled by the Arizona Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court).

Colorado narrowly passed two referendums in November, one that denies a state tax credit to employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and another that directs the attorney general to sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws.


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