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States can't wait for federal government anymore when it comes to immigration reform

Posted by Matthew Green | Jun 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

Congress can't make a decision on immigration reform. A bill came and went last summer with no success. There was hope when S. 744 was passed in the Senate, but it fell short in the House. Since then there has been little movement on either side of the aisle and states lawmakers have taken notice.

Recently, Seung Min Kim posted an article on commenting on how liberal cities and counties are taking immigration reform into their own hands. Some states are working towards approving in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants while others are looking for ways to permit immigrants to lawfully work in their states.

Until recently, the majority of immigration movement at the state level was being funded by conservatives. An example of this is the law that was passed right here in Arizona, known as SB 1070. It was broad in scope and controversial in nature. It was considered to be one of the toughest anti-undocumented immigration laws passed anywhere in the country.

However, the current trend seems to be making states more immigrant-friendly. According to the article, this trend also allows Democrats in Washington “another opportunity to slam Republicans for failing to move immigration legislation.”

One idea that is gaining momentum is the increased number of local law enforcement agencies that have decided to go against federal immigration policies, when it comes to deportations. In just the last few weeks, law enforcement personnel in Philadelphia, Baltimore and a handful of counties in Oregon, Colorado and Washington have all come out against holding immigrants in jail who are suspected of being undocumented, but would otherwise not be detained.

By doing this, these local and state governments are showing resistance against Secure Communities. Secure Communities is a program “run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that requires local law enforcement to hand over fingerprints to federal immigration officials of those who are booked into jails.” Under the guidelines of the program, local jails are asked to detain an individual if fingerprinting leads to questions about immigration status. Secure Communities was first implemented in 2008 during George W. Bush's presidency, but has since expanded during the Obama administration.

However, now, it looks like there is a possibility that Obama will be revising the Secure Communities program. In fact, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently talked with “PBS NewsHour” and said that he was considering a “fresh start” for the program. Part of the reason for these changes include the fact that, in April, an Oregon federal court decided that these types of “detainers” could potentially violate an individual's Fourth Amendment rights.

Communities that have chosen to not go along with detainer requests believe that law enforcement personnel and resources would be better used on individuals who “pose a threat to public safety.” Take, for instance, the Baltimore City Detention Center, it has stated that it will “only hold immigrants who are facing charges or convictions on felonies, three or more misdemeanors or a ‘serious' misdemeanor.”

What are your thoughts on states taking the lead in immigration reform?

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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