States fill federal vacuum on immigrants

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MINNEAPOLIS — With Con­gress at a stand­still on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues, states have pur­sued their own solu­tions, with some of­fer­ing in-state tu­i­tion and fi­nan­cial aid to un­au­tho­rized stu­dents and oth­ers ap­prov­ing more spend­ing to en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws.

“While Con­gress can­not seem to take ac­tion on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues, states re­main en­gaged in de­bat­ing and solv­ing im­mi­gra­tion chal­lenges, whether we are dis­cuss­ing ser­vices or en­force­ment,” Vir­ginia state Sen. John Wat­kins, a Re­pub­li­can and co-chair of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures’ im­mi­gra­tion task force, said in re­leas­ing an im­mi­gra­tion re­port dur­ing NCSL’s an­nual meet­ing last week.

States have en­acted 132 im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated laws this year, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. The num­ber is down only slightly from last year, even though some states, in­clud­ing im­mi­gra­tion hot spot Texas, held no leg­is­la­tive ses­sion this year. Seven states ap­proved res­o­lu­tions call­ing on Con­gress or the White House to act on a im­mi­gra­tion is­sues such as de­por­ta­tion pol­icy and a gen­eral over­haul of fed­eral laws.

In many cases, the laws en­acted in the states con­tin­ued a trend of open­ing the door to re­cent im­mi­grants, au­tho­rized and un­au­tho­rized, to be more en­gaged in civic life and the com­mu­nity. The mea­sures in­clude em­ploy­ment and la­bor reg­u­la­tions, ed­u­ca­tion pol­i­cies and health care ac­cess.

Among the no­ta­ble ex­am­ples: Flor­ida and Ten­nes­see joined 15 other states that of­fer in-state tu­i­tion by law for un­au­tho­rized im­mi­grants. Four states of­fer it through their higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems’ boards of re­gents. Wash­ing­ton state went fur­ther this year, join­ing Cal­i­for­nia, New Mex­ico and Texas in of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial aid to un­au­tho­rized stu­dents.

Flor­ida also made it pos­si­ble for un­au­tho­rized im­mi­grants to be mem­bers of the state bar as­so­ci­a­tion.

In New York and Ore­gon, law­mak­ers ap­proved mea­sures to ex­pand health care ac­cess to im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing those who are un­au­tho­rized and in gen­eral ex­cluded from fed­eral safety-net pro­grams like Med­ic­aid, the fed­eral-state health care pro­gram for the poor.

New York’s mea­sure aims to make med­i­cal as­sis­tance avail­able to those who might be oth­er­wise in­el­i­gi­ble be­cause of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus un­der fed­eral law. Ore­gon will study cre­at­ing a ba­sic health plan that could serve le­gal res­i­dent im­mi­grants who are ex­cluded from other pro­grams.

Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ued to be a leader in push­ing for more im­mi­grant-friendly laws. Law­mak­ers ap­proved a mea­sure that would bar em­ploy­ers from pur­su­ing pu­ni­tive im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment ac­tions against their work­ers for any rea­son.

Other states went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Mis­souri, for ex­am­ple, ap­proved a law block­ing any in-state tu­i­tion ben­e­fit for un­au­tho­rized im­mi­grants. Six other states have also moved to block in-state tu­i­tion for those im­mi­grants.

Ari­zona law­mak­ers ap­proved a change to make it a fel­ony to as­sume some­one else’s iden­tity to be de­clared el­i­gi­ble to work. In South Car­o­lina, no­ta­ries pub­lic must now read and write English and be reg­is­tered to vote.

Utah re­pealed a law that urged its Com­mis­sion on Im­mi­gra­tion and Mi­gra­tion to co­or­di­nate with lo­cal, state and fed­eral of­fi­cials to help in­te­grate im­mi­grants into the state.

Despite the state ac­tiv­ity, few of the mea­sures ap­proved in 2014 gen­er­ated the sort of con­tro­versy that en­gulfed states such as Ari­zona and Ala­bama in re­cent years. Ac­cord­ing to the NCSL re­port, no states moved to of­fer driver’s li­censes to un­au­tho­rized im­mi­grants this year — 11 states and the Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia al­ready of­fer them — a step that has ig­nited op­po­si­tion in some states. There were no broad-based im­mi­gra­tion om­ni­bus mea­sures passed in the states this year ei­ther, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

United States - North America - United States government - Texas - Arizona - United States Congress - District of Columbia - Deval Patrick - Rick Perry - Dave Heineman - Terry Branstad

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