Advocate: Neb. immigration measures slow progress By JEAN ORTIZ / Associated Press Writer
Saturday, Apr 25, 2009 - 10:22:51 pm CDT Cities and states that are trying to work out their own solutions to illegal immigration are not making constructive changes and are slowing efforts in fixing what is a federal problem, a national immigrant-rights advocate said.

Legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration, whether on the state or local level, has instead amounted to costly legal battles and divided communities, said Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in an interview with The Associated Press.

“They’ve diverted attention from addressing real problems, so I don’t think they’ve helped at all. In fact, I think they’ve hurt. They’ve caused people to focus on the wrong issue,” he said Saturday when asked if such legislation has sent a message to Washington about the urgent need for solutions.

He echoed those sentiments later Saturday as he delivered the keynote address at the ACLU Nebraska banquet in Lincoln. He urged the crowd of more than 100 to “bring the protection of immigrants into the modern period.”

The local measures are among the great challenges to civil liberties today, he said.

The Constitution was carefully written to guarantee certain basic rights to all people, including the right to due process, regardless of citizenship, he said.

“Our job is to ensure that our immigration policy and our immigration laws guarantee those fundamental principles that the Constitution requires, that our values demand and that our principles stand for,” he said.

Local immigration measures vary widely across the country. Some communities have focused on requiring employers to verify the legal status of the people they hire. Other communities have joined in a federal program that allows local law enforcement to train for and enforce federal immigration law.

Nebraska measures, including a recently passed bill (LB403) to keep illegal immigrants from collecting public benefits and a measure in Fremont that seeks to ban renting housing to and hiring illegal immigrants, are among the misguided efforts, he said.

Communities have more pressing issues before them, including dealing with an economic slump, creating jobs and grappling with education needs, he said.

Supporters of the local measures have said they’re needed to make up for lax enforcement by federal officials.

“I think everybody would say that our immigration system is broken. It’s not working for businesses, it’s not working for families. It’s not working for immigrants, it’s not working for our economy,” he said. “There needs to be major overhaul of the federal immigration laws, but that has to be done in a way that serves the entire national interest.”

Guttentag said he’s optimistic about talk of immigration reform on the federal level getting under way soon, but he stressed that many challenges remain.

“We have an incredible opportunity with this new administration,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen without us pushing and fighting every single step of the way.”

Jean Ortiz, AP, 25 April 2009

Illegal Immigration

Updated: Wed, Apr 29th 2009 @ 3:19pm EDT