The debate may take place in DC, but the real impact of immigration policy is still felt at the local level.
On the surface, Laredo, Texas and Derby Line, Vermont have quite a bit in common. Both U.S. towns share a border with foreign neighbors; both are satisfied, if not proud of, the friendly ties they've maintained with their sister cities over the years. So much so, that they even believe their counterparts on the other side of the border add character to their communities.
Since 1904, Derby Line has personified the cooperative, practical side of bilateral immigration policy and border control. Patrons of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House from Derby Line and its sister city, Stanstead, find books in the Canadian collection and check them out at the library's American registers.
But when a van of 21 illegal aliens was recently discovered there—including passengers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Ghana—the U.S. Border Patrol began a push to block roads between the two towns in an effort to stem illegal crossings. Kevin Beadle, a former U.S. customs inspector and current library and village trustee for Derby Line, disagrees with the decision.
"I think we have enough protection—as much as we can stand," Beadle says. He reasons that residents in both towns feel safe with the closed-circuit TV monitors and neighborhood watch-like program. He calls the recent move to secure the roads in his border town a "policy of scapegoat-ism."
Laredo, Texas, nicknamed "The Gateway City", shares a similar perspective on welcoming its neighbors. Yet today's population and cultural landscape of the two American towns is drastically different. In comparison to Derby Line, whose estimated population barely touches 792, Laredo's population is on the rise at 215,484, and is 94.1% Hispanic. Mayor Pro-Tem Gene Belmares, himself the son of immigrants from Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico, calls Laredo an "immigrant community."
Belmares claims that a growth in NAFTA trade, housing, and the medical community has left Laredo with a low unemployment rate and lucrative job market. And as long as businesses keep hiring undocumented workers, he says, "They're going to keep coming."
Immigration vs. Border Security
Belmares believes that there are two distinct issues for sound policy that need to be addressed in different ways: immigration and border security. While the immigration process is of national concern, he says, border security varies across the board, and should be dealt with regionally.
"The vast majority of homeland security issues are not with the Mexican border, they are with Canada," Belmares claims. But with immigration, he says, "There needs to be comprehensive policy to provide access to jobs, and one that can focus on enforcement."
Up in the Midwest, Sheriff Daniel Beck of Allen County, Ohio stakes out a similar stance, but his municipality is hardly a "Gateway City." Over the last 18 months, the county has deported 83 illegal aliens. "We are one of the more aggressive counties in the state," Beck says wearily. "A civil rights commission came here the other day because our numbers are so high."
Allen County serves as a regional shopping center to 11 other counties. For a mid-sized county with highly trafficked commercial appeal, Beck claims that there is still a high unemployment rate, which he attributes to a workforce corroded by the presence of undocumented workers.
Beck claims that the easiest way to handle the influx of immigrants is to target employers with a strong national policy which state and local authorities are required to follow. "We don't need any more state laws…a lot of them will be found unconstitutional…it's just so difficult," he says. But cracking down on employers is no small task either. "To do that requires as much expertise, man power and resources as our drug units take."
Protecting the Homeland and its Resources
Mike Haslip is Chief of Police for Blaine, Washington, a small town where private properties often spill over onto the Canadian border. Although Blaine lacks the problem of residential illegal aliens that municipalities like Allen County or Laredo, Chief Haslip says it takes a strong working relation-ship between his officers, the CPB and ICE to keep his town safe. A large community of federal law enforcers work and reside in Blaine, where trespassing occurs all too frequently, with individuals stealing cars to flee north, or abandoning vehicles on Blaine residents' properties.
"These instances pose safety issues for residents and can affect their quality of life by de-grading their sense of security if they live on or near the border," Haslip says.
Many Americans have complained that illegal migrants drain public services such as education, health care and law enforcement. The state of Utah, for example, recently appealed to the federal government to seek reimbursement for the millions of dollars spent educating the children of undocumented workers. But some legislators, like Belmares, believe the strain on the public system is largely exaggerated.
"They don't go to our doctors," he says, explaining that many simply go back to Mexico because health care is cheaper, even if they do have insurance American insurance. "And a lot of these folks never come out of the shadows—but they pay into the system. They get taxed, they put money into their Social Security and they'll never see a check from it if they retire."
Chief Haslip urges people to consider the immigrant perspective as well: "Communities are made of groups, social and family structures which perceive their government as either friend or foe," Haslip says. "A local police department strives to create relationships with their minority groups; to build a sense of trust with them and ensure they have the same access to services—for example, domestic violence education and protection."
Beck is also concerned with the difficulties of regulating the immigrant population, and of exclusionism.
"One of the things that really foiled any statewide immigration reform is when public entities develop unique or novel approaches just to get public attention," he says. He believes in working with state legislators to craft local policies based in logic and reason. "These spastic, knee-jerk reactions—like the fear of 'trespassing,' make us look like radicals," he says. "We're only sheriffs."