Thursday, August 03, 2006

States/cities "will not wait" on Washington

Did you hear about U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair signing an agreement with California Governor Schwarzenegger on global warming this week? The Los Angeles Times reported that the Governator said "California will not wait for our federal government to take strong action on global warming."

Lately in multiple public policy issue areas, local and state governments are stepping up where they think the 109th "Do-Nothing" Congress is failing to act. Nowhere is this more evident than in immigration reform.

This week, another governor, this time in Colorado, signed into law one of the toughest packages of immigration-related legislation in the country. The Associated Press reported that Republican Governor Bill Owens said "This legislation will make a positive difference in the future of Colorado." Meanwhile Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff boasted to the Denver Post that "We passed more measures to tackle illegal immigration than at any point in Colorado history."

The Colorado laws will force 1 million people receiving state and federal benefits to prove they are legal U.S. residents and require that employers verify that they do not employ illegal immigrants before they can receive grants from the state Economic Development Commission. More measures are planned as ballot initiatives in the November elections.

Meanwhile in other states, like Ohio, New Jersey and Florida, counties and municipalities are getting in on the act. In Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones has paid for billboards that have a photo of him with the words "Hire an Illegal-Break the Law," and "Illegal Aliens Here" in a circle with a slash through it. The Washington Post reports that immigrants are fleeing the harassment for other locales.

The New Jersey town of Riverside recently approved an ordinance banning employers and landlords from hiring or housing illegal immigrants. The New York Times reports that the town, which has been revitalized by an influx of Brazilian immigrants, is no longer bustling and the downtown is deserted.

As one bright spot, the city of Avon Park in Florida, voted down a measure that would have made English the city's official language and imposing fines for those who offer jobs, services or housing to illegal immigrants. The law intended to stop the illegal immigration that "destroys our neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life,'' the act read. The Associated Press reported that at a public hearing, Alejandro Anaya wept as he explained why he opposes the law. Anaya is legal, but his wife is not. "All she wants is a chance,'' Anaya told the crowd. "She is not a bad person. She is not a criminal. She didn't take anyone's job. All we are asking is for a chance."

(It is interesting that local governments like Avon Park seem to understand the need to listen to the public including immigrants themselves, unlike the spate of recent Congressional hearings where politicians seem to be grandstanding for results at the ballot box.)

What does all this mean? Congress needs to get back to work in passing truly comprehensive immigration reform rather than leaving it to states, cities, counties and towns to their misguided and divisive attempts to do what they think needs to be done. This wave of local legislation also demonstrates how the ant-immigrant hateful rhetoric of anti-immigrant is in danger of catching on like a wildfire. The immediate results of the measures also shows what the economic consequences could be if enforcement-only legislation is passed in Washington.


Contact your Senators and/or Representatives in the House and tell them to get back to work on truly comprehensive immigration reform. Ask them to stop partisan politicking in these hearings and refrain from the anti-immigrant rhetoric since it is having an effect on local governments.

Also read your local news to see if your local government is planning any anti-immigrant legislation. Get involved and make sure that pro-immigrant voices are heard in the debate.