Friday, December 08, 2006

Local Governments' Actions Diminish Justice For All

A report released by The Century Foundation this month, concludes that failed federal immigration policy led to ineffective and increasingly combative policies by inexperienced states and localities to address new immigrant flows.

A "pre-emptive" ordinance passed in October 2006 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a town with few immigrants, indicates that nativism, opposition to federal policy, and national organizations opposed to comprehensive immigration measures may identify the catalyst behind local ordinances -- fear. Some organizations seeking a moratorium on almost all immigration into the United States have assisted towns (including Altoona) in drafting anti-immigrant ordinances. Anti-immigrant ordinances diminish justice for all community members by promoting division, the denial of civil liberties, and discrimination. The Altoona ordinance "promotes bigotry," said Reverend Luke Robertson, executive director of Catholic Charities in Altoona.

According to the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), since May 2006 city councils in 13 states passed 28 anti-immigrant ordinances. Furthermore, 44 Anti-immigrant local ordinances in 17 states are now pending.

The recent trend of anti-immigrant ordinances began in San Bernardino, California, by a local organization, which discusses "fear" of an "invasion" by undocumented immigrants on its website, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Community leaders and national organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) advocated against the ordinance, which included regulation of day labor agencies, requiring all official city business occur only in English, fines on businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants, and denial of permits, contracts, or grants to businesses that employ unauthorized immigrants.

Despite a 4-3 vote by the San Bernardino Mayor and City Council against the ordinance, city councils in other local towns -- including Hazelton, Pennsylvania -- modeled anti-immigrant ordinances after the failed San Bernardino ordinance.

Lawsuits remain pending over the legality of the anti-immigrant ordinances in Hazelton, Escondido, California, and Farmers Branch, Texas. Plaintiffs in the Hazelton and Escondido cases contend that the ordinances violate federal and state immigration, housing, and anti-discrimination laws. In June 2006, the Congressional Research Service, analyzed the Hazelton ordinance and concluded that federal and state courts would be precluded from enforcing some of its provisions due to preemption by federal immigration law. The analysis also found that the proposed ordinance could conflict with federal housing assistance laws and federal anti-discrimination laws. As a result, the city council passed a new ordinances subsequently challenged in federal court. In addition to these troubling local ordinances, states such as Arizona and Colorado passed anti-immigrant ballot initiatives.

In response to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, city councils in 8 states passed 18 pro-immigration ordinances. For example, in March the City of Chicago an Executive Order forbidding the Chicago Police Department from cooperating with federal immigration officials. This recent action also affirms Executive Order 85-1 issued by the city's late Mayor Harold Washington more than two decades ago. Executive Order 85-1 barred Chicago's police and city agencies from cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Recently elected Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III said that he would oppose any proposal by outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for state troopers to detain persons for alleged immigration law offenses. "Enforcing immigration on a local level would compromise the relationships that police must create and maintain with all of the communities in which they serve," he said.

For summaries and maps of the pro and anti-immigrant ordinances by FIRM click here. For steps that you can take to oppose anti-immigrant ordinances in your community click here.