Some Places Revisit Immigration Laws

Emily Bazar, USA Today, February 10, 2009

Some states, cities and counties that plunged into the immigration debate are having second thoughts.

In Texas, Alabama and elsewhere, lawmakers have repealed or modified measures that cracked down on illegal immigrants or made English the official language. In Iowa and Utah, legislators are proposing similar reversals.

They cite various reasons, including the time and expense of fighting legal challenges, the cost of implementing the measures while tightening their budgets and the barrage of publicity and accusations of racism that come with such laws.

“For us to spend our time pitting neighbor against neighbor was a sacrilege,” says Judith Camp, a city councilwoman in Oak Point, Texas, about 35 miles north of Dallas, who voted to kill the city’s English-only resolution in December{snip}

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Most state and local laws that passed as federal reform failed remain in place, and some communities have mounted expensive campaigns to keep them. Farmers Branch, Texas, has steadfastly defended its ordinances despite legal challenges and public protests.

Chishti [Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute] nonetheless expects more lawmakers to reconsider.”The cost of enforcing and defending these ordinances is enormous,” he says. “The appetite for these things is going down.”

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In Utah, two legislators, one from each party, have proposed delaying implementation of a law set to take effect in July. The bill’s provisions include a requirement that government agencies check the legal status of new hires against a federal database.

Republican state Rep. Stephen Clark, author of one proposal, wants to delay the bill for a year to study the economic impact of illegal immigrants on the state.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, supports a delay, says spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.

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In Farmers Branch, legal bills haven’t kept the city from sticking with its immigration law. Farmers Branch has spent $1.6 million so far to fight lawsuits challenging its effort to prevent illegal immigrants from renting apartments and houses, says finance director Charles Cox. In one case, it will have to pay up to $900,000 in plaintiffs’ legal fees.

The $1.6 million represents 1.5% to 2% of the city’s budget, but residents approved one of its ordinances with more than two-thirds of the vote and want lawmakers to fight, Cox says.

“We can certainly find other uses for the money,” he says. “By the same token, the residents have made their voices heard that this is a priority.”

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