Immigration Policy Becomes Local Priority
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And here in California, a similar measure received initial approval last night in Escondido. Escondido is near San Diego. Hundreds of people packed the city council chamber there, hundreds more rallied outside. Police in riot gear were on hand, and a final vote is scheduled for two weeks from now.
So just how many localities across the country are doing the same, taking immigration matters into their own hands? Marshall Fitz is here to tell us. He's a Lawyer with the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, a pro- immigration group. And welcome to the program.
Mr. MARSHALL FITZ (Attorney, American Immigration Lawyer's Association): Thanks very much for having me.
BRAND: Well, how many cities, by your count, are doing this - getting in the immigration legislation game?
Mr. FITZ: I think it's too hard to actually put a number on it. There's a real proliferation of activity both at the state and local level over the last year, and it seems to be accelerating even in the last few months.
BRAND: Hundreds, thousands?
Mr. FITZ: Well, from 2005 to 2006, we saw a doubling of activity at the state level in terms of bills that were introduced and bills that were ultimately passed. And we're talking about, at the state level, 500 to 600. At the local level, really too difficult - scores at the very least.
BRAND: And most of these involve criminalizing business owners and landlords who deal with illegal immigrants?
Mr. FITZ: Those are a couple of the ones that have received the most prominent attention recently, but there are also a number of measures dealing with restrictions on benefits, such as healthcare benefits. There are also ID provisions. There are state and local law enforcement initiatives that have been introduced, so we're seeing it cover a lot of the basic social activities that states and localities try to regulate.
BRAND: How many of these ordinances have actually been enacted versus being held up by legal challenges?
Mr. FITZ: Yeah, I think very few. That's kind of an important point, is that while there's been this high level of activity in the state Houses and in the local-government level, there has been very little implementation of these measures to date, in part because many of them are so recent and the passage of many of them are so recent. And they've got effective dates starting in 2007 and the like. And in part, because there is going to be a fury of litigation over these measures.
And so, you know, in some respects, to the extent that the states and localities are trying to save a few pennies by enacting these measures because they think that it will help their state and local public coffers, they're going to be defending against a lot of litigation challenges to the constitutionality of a number of these provisions.
BRAND: Well, what are the constitutional objections?
Mr. FITZ: Clearly, immigration law writ large is a federal issue, and it's one that was delegated to the Congress and federal government in the constitution. And Congress has regulated in this arena pervasively, meaning that really, they've left nothing for the states and localities to do. And in many cases, the states and localities are trying to circumvent that preemption by narrowly drafting some of their provisions, and some of them might withstand constitutional challenge. Some of them probably won't, but at the very least, we can expect a lot of activity in the courts.
BRAND: Is it possible that the courts could look at this and say well, look. The federal government is not doing what it should be doing. I guess by default, we'll let the states and localities decide.
Mr. FITZ: That's an interesting thought, and maybe some judges might be inclined to view the issue that way. I think as a straight matter of law, that probably is not a winning legal argument. But I guess it does go to the issue of whether the federal government truly has preempted the field in terms of legislating on this issue, since their clearly not doing their job in creating a rational, humane immigration system that serves the interest of our nation and these communities specifically.
BRAND: Marshall Fitz is a lawyer with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. FITZ: Thanks very much for having me.
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