Federal Inaction on Immigration Reform Divides the Country

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If you look back over the past few years, deportation rates have hit record highs only to start to recently recede. At the same time, Latino voters have helped push immigration reform farther than it has ever gone on the national level. Although no decisive federal legislation has successfully passed, president-appointed programs and state-level immigration reform legislation has stayed hundreds of thousands of deportations of young undocumented immigrants and opened up opportunities for college education and assistance and obtaining driver’s licenses and legal identification. Moving forward, employment and educational opportunities as well as access to healthcare, travel, and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants promise to be big issues on the federal level as well. However, federal inaction thus far has caused red states and blue states to take immigration matters into their own hands in totally opposite directions, dividing the country in two and he longer it takes for the United States congress to pass national legislation the more divided the states will become.

When Republicans took many state house victories three years ago, a wave of anti-immigration legislation was prompted on a state level. These policies turned local police forces into border patrol, turning routine traffic stops into legal status checks and opportunities to detain immigrants. Public backlash—including the officers who suddenly had a lot more on their plates than they could handle—as well as judicial rulings have mitigated many of these laws and stopped states from passing harsher ones. Immigrant communities in these states have not dwindled from these laws in the long run, but many families have been torn apart over routine traffic stops resulting in deportation and simple things like going to work, seeking healthcare, reporting crimes, or even driving a car carry dire costs for undocumented immigrants in these states.

On the other hand, California, the state with the highest immigrant population in the country, is leading the states in immigration reform. California recently passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, making domestic workers—a population with a huge percentage of undocumented workers—eligible for overtime pay. The state has also passed legislation making it more difficult to detect undocumented workers and not requiring private businesses to screen potential employees through E-Verify, a federal program to check the workers’ legal statuses.

States like California, such as Washington, Colorado, and New Mexico, have taken the stance that undocumented immigrants do affect the economy…positively. They believe these workers infuse the economy with younger workers and support the structures of a robust economy, and that their rights and safety should be protected. Undocumented workers run high risks of being exploited by employers because if they report misconduct they risk deportation. With the Baby Boomer generation retiring and growing older, and people living to older ages overall, the domestic worker and caretaker field is expanding rapidly, a field with high rates of undocumented workers. “We hear of modern day slavery cases on a regular basis,” reports Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Likewise, in the construction industry, workplaces with high rates of undocumented workers consistently shirk on safety precautions.

Source: Sarlin, Benjy. “New immigration laws split America in two,” MSNBC. December 31st, 2013. http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/new-immigration-laws-split-america-two.

This article was written by Rebecca Little