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Is the U.S. Becoming More Immigrant Friendly?

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In her May 19, 2014 article in Politico titled “States Take on Immigration,” Seung Min Kim explains that states are increasingly taking immigration into their own hands.  However, where states used to pass laws focusing on immigration law enforcement such as Arizona’s anti-immigration laws partially struck down in 2010, now they are focusing on expanding state benefits for immigrants.  Frustrated by federal inaction on immigration reform many states have begun to enact their own immigrant-friendly laws seeing as the last comprehensive immigration bill was in 1996, when the tough, enforcement-focused Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRIRA) was passed.

Min Kim’s article highlights several recent examples of this trend.  While undocumented immigrants are unable to receive in-state tuition in Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana, and are not even allowed to attend public colleges in Alabama and South Carolina, at least 19 states – most recently Virginia and Florida – now offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.  Additionally at least 11 states, including the District of Columbia, permit undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.  And cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, as well as counties in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, are refusing to hold arrested individuals in their jails when ICE places a detainer on them – a request that the individual be held in jail until ICE has had a chance to verify their immigration status or pick them up for an immigration violation. As well, in Massachusetts the Governor wants to expand the H-1 program by employing high-skilled foreign workers in public colleges and institutions that are exempt from the annual 85,000/person cap on the H-1B visa.

If the recent immigrant-friendly trend throughout the states is any indication, when Congress finally does get around to passing comprehensive immigration reform, it will likely be much more immigrant-friendly than IRIRA was in 1996. This is good news for immigrants who are already in the U.S. as they will probably receive expanded benefits and possibly amnesty over a controlled period of time. However, with reform comes compromise, and any immigration reform bill will probably also include another major crackdown on the entry and hiring of new undocumented immigrants.

 

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