Posted on September 17, 2008

Report Says Immigrant Backlash a Myth

Hernán Rozemberg, San Antonio Express-News, September 12, 2008

A handful of conservative states with a recent influx of immigrants have drawn national attention for passing “punitive” immigration laws, but the reality is that most state legislatures are quietly welcoming newcomers, according to a report released Thursday.

The Progressive States Network, a pro-immigrant group founded three years ago in New York City to lobby states, weighed in on the immigration debate, concluding that the public has been wrongly led to conclude that most states have suddenly turned into immigration law enforcers.


The report focused on where unauthorized immigrants live. Just 11 percent live in states that passed immigration enforcement laws this year—such as Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Utah.

By contrast, the report noted, more than half of unauthorized immigrants live in “integrative” states such as California, Illinois and Texas, places that have enacted laws providing benefits for migrants.

The report’s key conclusion is that states tackle immigration differently according to their experience with the issue: Where it’s a newer phenomenon, there’s an immediate reaction to oppose change.


Executive Summary

The Misguided Media Hype over Anti-Immigrant Legislation: Despite much media hype, the supposed wave of anti-immigrant politics has amounted to a few punitive laws in a handful of states, even as most states have quietly been moving forward with positive, integrative approaches to new immigrants in their communities.

The Failed Use of Immigration as a “Wedge” Issue: The current hype around anti-immigrant policies is, unfortunately, about electoral politics. The media largely fell for the tactics of political opportunists who hoped to use the issue of immigration as a “wedge” issue, much as they have used gay marriage and other social issues to undermine progressive coalitions and support rightwing politicians during elections. Yet the result has largely been political failure for rightwing politicians trying to play the anti-immigrant political card.

The Success of Positive Immigration Policy: Many states, including those where most immigrants live, now provide in-state tuition (so-called DREAM Acts) for undocumented immigrants going to public universities. Others are promoting policies to integrate immigrants through English language instruction and assistance in navigating the citizenship process. A number of states are providing health insurance to undocumented children. And instead of trying to punish immigrant workers, states are increasingly working with native and immigrant workers to crack down on bad employers who are violating minimum wage, safety and workers compensation laws.

Highlighting Positive State Legislation for New Immigrants: In this report, we have provided a state-by-state summary of major immigrant-related policies, both punitive and integrative, enacted in the last few years. We divide states based on those policies into six categories, from integrative to punitive, and highlight charts and graphs that demonstrate that positive integrative policies are far more common in the states than negative punitive policies.

A few key findings:

* Integrative policies are far more pervasive than punitive policies, with the later [sic] having been enacted only in a small minority of state populations.

* Only 11% of undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted comprehensive punitive policies, while a significant majority of undocumented immigrants live in states with positive integrative or somewhat integrative policies.

* Only 16% of undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted sanctions against private sector employers. On the other hand, over 50% of undocumented immigrants live in states that provide in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant children.

* Nearly the same majority of undocumented immigrants live in states that are promoting “New Americans” policies to better educate new immigrants and nearly a majority also live in states that have recently enacted new penalties for wage law violations in order to raise wages for all workers, native and immigrant alike.