The recent actions of Alabama and New York highlight how red
states and blue states are heading in exactly opposite directions on
laws about illegal immigrants. In this atmosphere, is federal
immigration reform possible?
America's red and blue states are increasingly going in exactly
opposite directions on the issue of illegal immigration - a
testament to how difficult finding middle ground has become on the
Earlier this month, Alabama followed Georgia and, most famously,
Arizona in passing sweeping anti-illegal-immigration legislation. In
many respects, Alabama's is the most comprehensive bill of the
three, forcing schools to report how much they're spending to
educate kids of illegal immigrants, for example.
That same week, however, New York State followed the lead of
Illinois and opted out of the federal Secure Communities program,
which is designed to identify and deport illegal immigrants in US
jails who are convicted of certain felonies. They have criticized
the program as casting too broad a net, deporting even "busboys and
nannies." Several days later, Massachusetts also opted out, and
California could be next.
'SILENT RAIDS' AND E-VERIFY IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT ARE
DESTROYING US FARMS
As Washington has punted on federal immigration reform, states
have become the laboratories to test new approaches. The picture
that is emerging, though, is one of a nation divided against itself
on the issue.
In the broadest terms, states with a long history of assimilating
foreign-born migrants are largely defending the ideal of the United
States as a "nation of immigrants," legal or illegal. Meanwhile,
states that have before been largely isolated from immigration
patterns are now taking a "the law is the law" approach.
The result is a pattern that roughly fits the red-blue divide
with the South and inner West opposed by the Northeast and West
Coast. But the patchwork of immigration policy could have a silver
lining: As states struggle with the issue, their efforts could
provide starting points for more meaningful federal reform.
"In the very short run, it is a good thing for states and
lawmakers to go on record about where they are on immigration policy
- from both sides - because it clarifies what steps need to be taken
at the federal level to achieve higher standards of immigration law
enforcement and compliance," says Jessica Vaughan, policy director
for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stronger
The regional immigration divide is in large part based on
dramatic shifts in migration patterns, boosted by America's troubles
in controlling its southern border. Outside of the so-called Big Six
immigration states - California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas,
and New Jersey - the immigrant population has increased 200 percent
during the past 15 years. In seven states, more than half of those
immigrants are undocumented. In another 17, about 40 percent are
"There is some party politics, some short-term electoral gains at
hand, but by and large it has to do with the fact that [people] are
a lot more receptive to anti-immigrant laws in places where they're
not used to immigrants - and the opposite in places where they're
used to having immigrants and where people understand the value
proposition" behind welcoming immigrants, says Allert Brown-Gort,
associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the
University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
That divergence is already having a tangible impact on immigrant
families, farmers, and businesses in places like Arizona and
Georgia, where crackdowns - despite the legal challenges pending
against the new laws - are causing immigrants to take their muscle
and spending dollars elsewhere.
Just as 100,000 undocumented immigrants reportedly left Arizona
last year, an exodus from Georgia has also begun. …