Cities Act on Immigration Says Minutemen

By: Jim Gilchrist

From Farmers Branch to Hazleton, Pa., more than 100 municipalities across the country are taking it upon themselves to tackle illegal immigration.

In Pennsylvania, 32 municipalities have considered or enacted resolutions – such as making English the official language, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and punishing landlords who rent to them. In California, 13 cities have passed or considered local laws to crack down on illegal immigrants and push for comprehensive immigration legislation. The list goes on.

And state legislatures in all 50 states, dissatisfied with congressional inaction, are considering more than twice the number of immigration-related laws as in previous years – with most imposing tougher restrictions on illegal immigrants.

The message to Congress, some say: If you can’t do it, we will.

On Tuesday, the Senate was struggling to meet Majority Leader Harry Reid’s ultimatum to end months of delay and begin policy discussions today for immigration legislation – or face a vote on a bill passed last year that no one now likes. But late Tuesday, Mr. Reid, D-Nev., postponed a vote until Monday.

The actions at the local level are the result of frustrations with congressional inability to forge bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, say groups on both sides of the debate.

“What we find in the local initiatives is that people use the only mechanisms they have to get the situation resolved,” said Cecilia Muñoz, senior vice president of research, advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino rights organization. “We believe that was the cause of the Farmers Branch vote. It was a vote out of frustration. Unfortunately, it will cause a lot of harm.”

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The overwhelming passage of the Farmers Branch ordinance Saturday marked the first public vote on a local ordinance to get tough on illegal immigration, though opponents have filed for an injunction to stop the measure from going into effect Tuesday.
The Dallas suburb’s ordinance would fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and require apartment managers to collect documents on the legal status of tenants. Dozens of cities across the country have seen similar tough measures approved by municipal government in the last year.

In cracking down, however, many activists are running smack into the complexity of the nation’s immigration laws, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University law professor. Mr. Yale-Loehr testified in March as an expert witness in a trial involving the town of Hazleton.

“People think it is easy to determine, and it is not,” the law professor said. A person can have legal status one day and lose it the next, he noted. And mixed-status families present other difficulties in enforcing an ordinance without raising discrimination claims for those in a family who are U.S. citizens, he noted.

Legal challenge

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against an April 2006 initiative in San Bernardino, Calif., that would deny city permits and contracts to businesses that hire illegal immigrants, ban such immigrants from renting or leasing city property, and require official city business to be conducted in English.

And the ACLU of Oklahoma is considering a legal challenge to a bill that Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed into law last week. The new law would prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs and public assistance and require law enforcement agents to police illegal immigrants arrested for particular crimes.

Several measures in the Texas Legislature have died in committee.

And last year, a federal judge issued a restraining order barring enforcement of several measures enacted by the town of Hazleton, Pa., that would require businesses to investigate the legal status of employees and tenants.

“If you’re a landlord, how are you supposed to know who has legal papers and who doesn’t?” Ms. Muñoz said. “You’re more likely then to make a determination about tenants based on ethnicity. And that tends to make all Latinos suspect.”

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors reduced immigration, said the increase in action at the local level is simply a reflection of the public being fed up with illegal immigration.

“Votes such as at Farmers Branch are very clear messages that the community wants illegal immigrants to go away,” Mr. Camarota said. “Local communities are left holding the bag for the consequences of illegal immigration. The longer the federal government doesn’t act, the more the cities pay in education, health care and social costs.” Meanwhile, Congress is in gridlock on the issue because it can’t craft legislation that appeals to both immigration special-interest groups and the public at large, Mr. Camarota said.

“Politically, the usual answer is just kick the can down the street and blame it on the other guy,” Mr. Camarota said. “If that’s the Senate’s response this week, we’ll see more activity at the local level like that at Farmers Branch. Period.” State legislators in all 50 states are dealing with more than twice the number of immigration-related bills than they were this time last year, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some 1,169 pieces of legislation and resolutions designed to address immigration or immigrant-related issues have been introduced this year – compared with 570 in 2006. And at least 57 measures have been enacted in 18 states, including Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas and Kentucky, the report said.

“There’s no question that immigration reform is one of the nation’s most pressing issues, and it should come as no surprise that state legislators are responding accordingly,” said Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, president of the conference of state legislatures. “However, what is extremely disappointing is Congress’ inability to craft a comprehensive immigration reform solution. “Washington’s inability to reach consensus has forced states to roll up their sleeves and get the job done,” she added.

In addition, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund said that through February, about 130 local governments from Avon Park, Fla., to Sandwich, Mass., have attempted or passed ordinances or resolutions dealing with immigration-related matters. About a fifth of those efforts were in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. While many small towns are cracking down on illegal immigrants, some large cities have taken a more neutral stance in support of comprehensive legislation.

The public desires for immigration reform are a strange balance of toughness on illegal entry and recognition of the positive contributions of those immigrants who have lived and worked in the country for years.

In a poll released April 26, about 64 percent said they support immigration reform legislation that provides increased border security and tougher enforcement, while including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The poll was conducted by The Tarrance Group for the National Immigration Forum from April 15-19 and April 22 of 800 registered likely voters in 2008. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

“Voters are clearly laying this issue at the feet of Congress,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the national Immigration Forum, which commissioned the poll. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Ms. Muñoz agrees.

“There will be hell to pay if the Senate doesn’t act and if some form of reform doesn’t happen,” Ms. Muñoz said.

Spinning their wheels

The discussions in the Senate have largely stalled along partisan lines on a number of contentious issues, particularly on how the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States would be treated.

Republican senators favor rules tougher than last year’s Senate bill for those here illegally to achieve legal status – longer waits, bigger fines and a return to the country of origin.

Negotiators for the White House proposed an equally controversial measure that stresses job skills and education over family ties in the qualifications for future legal immigration.

Discussions have stumbled over opening the borders to more tech workers and whether agricultural workers will be able to enter only through a guest worker program that would end their stay after three years.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said hurried action by the Democratic leadership would not help provide useful, workable immigration reform.

“It would be terribly disappointing and unfortunate if the Democrat majority leader were to set aside this work and simply move to last year’s bill that was rejected by a majority of Congress and the American people,” he said.

“Securing our borders and repairing our broken immigration system is too important to get bogged down in partisan politics or political gamesmanship,” Mr. Cornyn said. “I hope the Democrat leader will do the right thing and allow these negotiations to continue instead of attempting to ram through a flawed bill without the appropriate amount of bipartisan input and consideration.”

Groups join fight

Increasingly, however, grassroots organizations have formed to fight guest worker programs and legalization plans.

The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee recently launched Operation City Walls to spread the anti-illegal immigrant movement to cities across the country to help create local support to derail amnesty and legalization plans, PAC
president William Gheen said.

The group works with more than 100 cities and towns that have passed or are considering ordinances similar to that passed by Farmers Branch.
What’s remarkable about Farmers Branch, Mr. Gheen said, is that two-thirds of the voters supported the measure, though they were significantly outspent by the opposition in the campaign.

“Ninety percent of the time the side that spends the most wins,” Mr. Gheen said. “Farmers Branch not only reversed that, they devastated that statistic, which means anybody on an existing city or town council, or anyone considering running for city or town council, needs to take up this issue.”

Source: The Dallas Morning News

Jim Gilchrist founded the multi-ethnic Minuteman Project on Oct. 1, 2004, after years of frustrated efforts trying to get a neglectful U.S. government to simply enforce existing immigration laws.

Jim holds a B.A. in newspaper journalism, a B.S. in business administration, and an M.B.A. in taxation. He is a former newspaper reporter and a retired California CPA (Certified Public Accountant).

Jim is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and recipient of the Purple Heart award for wounds sustained while serving with an infantry unit in Vietnam, 1968 – 1969.

Mr. Gilchrist is a passionate defender of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and an avid supporter of law enforcement organizations. He has appeared on over 1000 radio and TV news and commentary shows in the past twelve months, and he believes he is only one of millions of 21st century minutemen / women / children who want the U.S. to remain governed by the “rule of law” and who want proactive enforcement of our national security protections and our immigration legal code.

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