Immigration Reform 2013: Why the State-By-State Approach is Not the Solution


President Obama has made it abundantly clear that immigration reform is a top priority agenda item for the first year of his second term. He declared during an interview with Meet the Press' David Gregory, "fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done." Obama's plan is to address all the issues around immigration with one comprehensive reform bill. The bill would address visas, including a guest worker program and incentives for immigrants specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, a national verification program and a path to citizenship paved by fines and back taxes.

The argument for immigration reform is well documented. It affects national security, the economy and places a strain on our fragile and finite social service resources. However, maybe the biggest issue is that states are taking polar opposite approaches to addressing undocumented immigrants. Some states, like Arizona and Alabama are cracking down on undocumented immigrants while others like Illinois are making it easier for them to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. The varied approaches prove that there is a desperate need for federal standard and comprehensive reform legislation.

Border and southern states like Arizona and Alabama have introduced immigration legislation that has been challenged in court. In the case of Arizona's SB1070 the challenge went all the way to the Supreme Court. Alabama's immigration legislation was seen as the model for Mitt Romney's immigration policy known as self-deportation. Arizona's SB1070 is known as the "show me your papers laws."

Illinois, on the other hand, became the third state (New Mexico and Washington are the other two) to pass legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license. The drivers' license "cannot be used as a form of government identification" and "eligible applicants are required to live in Illinois for at least a year and show proof of residence."

Basically, in one part of the country the government demands undocumented immigrants to show their papers while in other parts of the country the government issues those papers. The Illinois law has so many problems it is hard to know where to begin. How does an illegal, undocumented immigrant show "proof of residence?" How can a government-issued ID not be considered identification? If a person proves by their own admission to be in violation of the law, why aren't they being arrested?

The divide in the application of immigration law has led to states crossing jurisdictional boundaries on either side of the argument. "The California Senate, Illinois House, and New York Senate introduced resolutions opposing the Arizona law, while Tennessee enacted a resolution supporting it." In the ultimate example of the divide over immigration legislation, Michigan issued two resolutions, one calling for a boycott of Arizona businesses and the other opposing any boycott.

Comprehensive immigration reform will require bipartisan support and that as we have come to learn is virtually non-existent except in the case of war and unconstitutional provisions in the Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act. Republicans have signaled their support for immigration reform however they may not prefer to see it done in one comprehensive bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who advocates for a piecemeal approach said it is "not a line in the sand."

The Obama administration itself is somewhat bipolar on immigration control. On the one hand they continue to deport record numbers of undocumented immigrants while using selective prosecution to administratively allow for a quasi-Dream Act. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said, "we pay a price in broken families and hardship every day."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, explained that comprehensive immigration reform can't be done in a piecemeal fashion and has to include a path to full citizenship. He stated, "we can't have second-class citizenship." In the meantime, absent of any consistently applied federal law, if you are an undocumented immigrant in Arizona or Alabama, maybe you should think about temporarily relocating to Illinois where with the passage of piecemeal legislation you can get a temporary driver's license and then be able to "show your papers" as prove of being a second-class citizen.