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If the federal government won't do it, then many states will. PT rounds up the states making news with immigration policy decisions.



State Solutions to the Immigration Dilemma


Arizona state seal

Penalizing employers

Just four days after Congress scrapped the hotly debated national Immigration Bill, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano decided to pass a state law cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, because, in her words, "…it is now abundantly clear that Congress finds itself incapable of coping with the comprehensive immigration reforms our country needs."

The state bill, to go into effect Jan. 1, requires businesses to verify the legal status of new employees. But unlike the federal mandate that requires the same, the state can suspend the business license of first-time offenders. A second violation can result in the permanent revocation of a business license. Gov. Napolitano, a democrat, had previously vetoed the bill, passed by a Republican legislature the year before. Napolitano is currently working to amend the bill, claiming funding concerns, as well as its lack of exceptions for vital public resource centers like hospitals or power plants. If the bill goes into effect as it stands, such services could be closed down abruptly due to employment mismanagement.


Virginia state seal

Raising identification standards

Prince William County supervisors have voted unanimously to require police officers to ask detainees about their immigration status, and to arrest those found to be illegal immigrants. They also voted that county staff verify the identification of suspected illegal immigrants before providing public services. Virginia lawmakers have established a commission to investigate the fiscal losses of illegal aliens on the state; Culpeper and Chesterfield Counties are respectively developing their own studies in order to implement regulations similar to Prince William's.

The code of Virginia already includes a provision establishing English as the state's official language, and now, Culpeper's board's rules committee is discussing a resolution to declare the same for its county. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 250,000 of the US's estimated 12-20 million illegal immigrants lived in Virginia in 2005. In 1996, there were only 50,000 illegal aliens.


Connecticut state seal

ID cards for illegal aliens

New Haven city officials have taken a new direction in the immigration reform debate by providing more services for illegal immigrants, rather than restricting them, as many other state and municipalities across the country have done.  New Haven handed out its first batch of ID cards to illegal aliens on July 24, which will grant them access to banks, libraries, beaches and parks. They can even be used as a debit card to pay for city parking meters. With the legal representation of Yale Law School, and lobbying efforts of local immigration rights activists, the proposal was passed by New Haven's board of alderman in June by 25 to 1.

However, New Haven's new program flies in the face of the state's 48 restrictive measures introduced just this year. Proponents view the new ID cards as a way to address public safety concerns, claiming that illegal immigrants are not as likely to report crime if they think they may be asked for identification. But many groups—like the Yankee Patriot Association and the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC—were vehemently against the proposal, claiming that illegal aliens will drain the city's social services until the community reaches a breaking point and must seek federal assistance. Others claim the town is committing a felony by abetting any possible terrorists found among the undocumented migrant population. 


Georgia state seal

Tightening employment eligibility verification

As of July 2, all large Georgian companies are now required to register with the federal Employment Eligibility Verification Program, an online database run by the Citizenship and Immigration Services, in order to do business with state or local government agencies under SB 529. The bill also requires all residents to prove legal status before receiving state-funded benefits like health care. There are exemptions for children, pregnant women, and those with communicable diseases, however.

Georgia legislators will also adhere to federal law requiring them to provide all residents access to hospital emergency rooms. Those who are able to pay the full amount of services without subsidized aid will not be required to show identification. In addition, local law enforcement officials will be authorized to enforce federal immigration and customs laws along with their regular duties, and for-profit immigration assistance companies will be limited in which services they can provide. Local officials cannot yet estimate the likely outcome of the new bill, as the level of awareness about the measure varies throughout the state. 


Utah state seal

Demanding federal reimbursement for education costs

Utah's Education Interim Committee is actively seeking federal reimbursement for the millions spent on public education for the children of undocumented workers for the 2005-2006 school year. Based on a May audit by Utah's legislative auditor general, the committee estimates that between $15 million and $85.4 million, or about 2 percent of the $3.1 billion state education budget, was spent on educating undocumented school children.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires that all students, regardless of immigration status, receive education without question. The committee has planned to send a letter and copy of the audit to the U.S. Department of Education, immigration officials, and Utah's congressional delegation. Although state legislators are fairly confident they will not be allocated the reimbursement, they feel that the measure will send the message to Congress that they do not have sufficient resources without federal intervention. Some critics of the state's claims make note that the audit only looks at the cost of education, without factoring in the total amount of revenue undocumented workers bring to the state.


Maryland state seal

Refusing to enforce immigration laws

In a wave of frustration felt by many state legislators regarding the failed national immigration bill, many states are resorting to a provision in a 1996 federal immigration law which allows state and local law enforcers to implement federal functions. Under Section 287 G of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, state and local units are able to verify and police illegal aliens.

Many states and municipalities have called upon federal immigration officers to train their own enforcement agencies. But not so in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Police Chief Tom Manger has taken a hard-line stance to ignore immigration enforcement. Montgomery police state that their primary function is enforcing local laws and have no plans to change course on the issue.