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State and Local Governments Push Immigration Enforcement, Deny Illegal-Alien Accommodations in 2012


A number of state and local jurisdictions enacted immigration-enforcement measures in 2012 or fended off attempts to accommodate illegal aliens. Alabama revised its enforcement law without significantly weakening it while Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and three local governments enacted enforcement laws. Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Hawaii, Washington State and, so far, California denied illegal aliens the public benefits advocates demanded.


The Alabama Rewrite

After Alabama passed the strongest immigration-enforcement law in the nation last year, it became the target of non-stop attacks by immigration enforcement opponents, a like-minded media, and the Obama Administration. Despite the calls for repeal, the governor and Republican legislative leaders began the year determined to streamline and clarify, not gut the law.

Of course, “streamlining” is in the eye of the beholder. House Republican leaders, at the behest of business leaders, decided to streamline the law by removing critical enforcement provisions. For example, the re-write made it much less likely that businesses would ever be penalized (i.e., lose a business license) for hiring illegal aliens. Once introduced, the bill passed the House quickly before enforcement-minded citizens had an opportunity to complain.

The Alabama Senate, thankfully, was a different animal entirely. The lead Senate sponsor understood that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon rule on the Arizona SB 1070 case, which involved measures similar to Alabama law, so it made no sense to revise certain aspects of Alabama’s law before the Court spoke. The Senate also was less predisposed to let businesses off the hook on hiring penalties. Still, NumbersUSA members had to hold Senators’ feet to the fire to produce the strongest possible legislation.

In the end, the House concurred in the Senate’s changes – after considerable public pressure – and the governor signed the measure. It was the toughest battle fought this year, and the pro-enforcement side won.

Other State-Level Offense and Defense

California: Not an enforcement-oriented state by any stretch of the imagination, California produced several defensive battles this year. And more are in the offing.

Pro-illegal alien Assembly members introduced state-based guest worker legislation for the agricultural and services industries. The bill would have authorized the state to grant work and residency permits to illegal aliens if certain criteria were met and the feds approved. The trouble is, the federal government has no authority to authorize state guest workers programs. Our California members fought back with calls and faxes and the measure’s sponsor removed the bill from consideration. The pro-enforcement side won.

The Assembly also considered a constitutional amendment that, if approved by the legislature and California voters, would have set up a program similar to the DHS’ prosecutorial discretion policy. The program would have given illegal aliens immunity from deportation and the implicit ability to work, with federal government approval. This legislation is unconstitutional as well because the federal government cannot empower states to decide who can or cannot be deported. NumbersUSA members engaged on this measure, too. Assembly Democratic leaders decided to let the clock run out on the measure rather than bring it up for a vote. The pro-enforcement side won.

Still under consideration this year in California is a bill that would prevent law enforcement agencies from honoring ICE immigration detainers unless an illegal alien was convicted of a serious felony or had an outstanding warrant. The measure directly challenges the federal Secure Communities program, which allows ICE agents to ask police departments to hold any illegal alien under a detainer. The bill passed the state Senate and will soon head back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote. If the Assembly concurs, it will be sent to Governor Jerry Brown.

Colorado: For the third year in a row, Democratic legislators pushed legislation that would have given illegal aliens access to taxpayer-subsidized tuition rates at Colorado universities. Although the tuition rate offered under the bill was higher than the in-state rate, it still provided a significant taxpayer subsidy. The measure passed the state Senate with ease, despite strong opposition from NumbersUSA members, but was stopped again in the House where Republicans hold a scant one-vote majority. The pro-enforcement side won.

Delaware: Illegal-alien advocates pushed legislation that would have given illegal aliens access to in-state tuition rates and scholarship programs at Delaware universities. Strong opposition from NumbersUSA members prevented the bill from passing the Senate’s Education Committee. The pro-enforcement side won.

Indiana: Pro-illegal alien legislators used an education bill as a surreptitious vehicle for giving illegal aliens in-state tuition. Pro-enforcement legislators heard about the clandestine amendment the day before the bill was scheduled for a Senate floor vote and asked for help. Several enforcement groups, including NumbersUSA, activated their members. Burning up the phone lines worked because the sponsor pulled the bill from floor consideration. The pro-enforcement side won.

Hawaii: The Senate Education Committee took a bill that had passed the House last year and added an amendment giving illegal aliens in-state tuition and financial aid at the University of Hawaii. Unlike the Indiana legislators, however, Hawaii’s in-state proponents crowed publicly about the move. That was their mistake. The Senate Ways and Means Committee had next jurisdiction over the bill, so our members called in opposition. The committee let the bill die without action. The pro-enforcement side won.

Massachusetts: After illegal-alien drivers killed three citizens in Milford, Massachusetts public outrage spurred local legislators into action. They produced legislation that would have, among other things, required public employers/contractors to use E-Verify, increased penalties for unlicensed driving and using fraudulent IDs, and prohibited illegal aliens from registering vehicles. Anticipating that the legislation as a whole would not go far, sponsors worked with Democratic and Republican House leaders to include some provisions in the state budget bill (E-Verify excluded).

NumbersUSA members pushed legislators throughout the session and succeeded in protecting the provisions through final passage. This was significant because the House in previous years had always objected to Senate-sponsored enforcement measures. But the legislation had to get past Gov. Patrick first, a vocal illegal-alien supporter. In his veto message, Patrick approved most of the measures but removed the ban on vehicle registrations because it “targeted” illegal aliens. Not to be denied, however, legislators in both chambers overrode the governor’s changes. The pro-enforcement side won.

Pennsylvania: Legislators passed and the governor signed one enforcement bill so far this year. The measure is significant because it introduces E-Verify requirements in a large state. The law requires all public works contractors and subcontractors on state projects in excess of $25,000 to use E-Verify. Graduated penalties are included for non-compliance. A number of states started with a go-slow approach on E-Verify, but expanded the mandate in subsequent years. We hope that Pennsylvania’s actions laid the foundation for a future all-employer mandate. The pro-enforcement side won.

Tennessee: Lawmakers succeeded this year in banning public benefits for illegal aliens after last year’s aborted attempt. The legislation signed by Gov. Haslam requires applicants for state benefits to attest to being a citizen or non-citizen. Non-citizens, in certain instances, are then checked for eligibility under the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. The pro-enforcement side won.

Washington State: Open borders legislators pushed legislation that prohibited the state and its local governments from requiring employers to use E-Verify.  In 2011, California enacted the same legislation to stop a growing number of local governments from adopting such requirements. This bill would have negated E-Verify ordinances in 11 Washington local governments. NumbersUSA members and local pro-enforcement groups pushed hard to defeat the measure but it cleared committee. Their final attempt worked because Democratic leaders did not bring up the bill for a floor vote prior to the chamber’s deadline. The pro-enforcement side won.

Local Action

Cobb County, Georgia: In June, this suburban Atlanta county became the first local government in Georgia to join the voluntary ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program.  Under the agreement, the County will: use E-Verify for new hires; undergo an I-9 form audit to expose illegal aliens currently in the workforce; and hold training sessions for human resource officials on how to avoid hiring illegal aliens (e.g., on spotting document fraud). Since IMAGE helps rout out currently-employed illegal aliens, it is considered the best overall tool for maintaining a legal workforce. The pro-enforcement side won.

Milford, Massachusetts: The Milford town council voted unanimously in July to join the IMAGE program. The impetus was, as discussed above, the death of three citizens at the hands of illegal-alien drivers. The pro-enforcement side won.

Springfield, Missouri: On February 7th, local voters narrowly passed an initiative that requires Springfield employers to use E-Verify. Opposition groups, which included the Service Employees International Union and Springfield Chamber of Commerce, were thought to have outspent supporters by more than 10-to-1. Unfortunately, the ordinance faces ongoing litigation based on technical flaws in the measure.  Mixed results.

Salt Lake County, Utah: The State of Utah requires most employers to use E-Verify but does not penalize them for non-compliance. Frustrated with their inability to convince state legislators to add penalties, a local pro-enforcement group decided to push local governments to adopt their own requirements with teeth. The group had already collected more than 25,000 of the 36,000 signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot when the Salt Lake County Board decided to weigh in. The Board adopted an ordinance that requires employers to use E-Verify or risk losing their business license. The pro-enforcement side won.

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