Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor, June 20, 2011
America’s red and blue states are increasingly going in exactly opposite directions on the issue of illegal immigration–a testament to how difficult finding middle ground has become on the federal level.
Earlier this month, Alabama followed Georgia and, most famously, Arizona in passing sweeping anti-illegal-immigration legislation. In many respects, Alabama’s is the most comprehensive bill of the three, forcing schools to report how much they’re spending to educate kids of illegal immigrants, for example.
That same week, however, New York State followed the lead of Illinois and opted out of the federal Secure Communities program, which is designed to identify and deport illegal immigrants in US jails who are convicted of certain felonies. They have criticized the program as casting too broad a net, deporting even “busboys and nannies.” Several days later, Massachusetts also opted out, and California could be next.
As Washington has punted on federal immigration reform, states have become the laboratories to test new approaches. The picture that is emerging, though, is one of a nation divided against itself on the issue.
The result is a pattern that roughly fits the red-blue divide with the South and inner West opposed by the Northeast and West Coast. But the patchwork of immigration policy could have a silver lining: As states struggle with the issue, their efforts could provide starting points for more meaningful federal reform.
Just as 100,000 undocumented immigrants reportedly left Arizona last year, an exodus from Georgia has also begun. Farmers are struggling to get fruits and vegetables out of their patches, and stores in Hispanic neighborhoods are seeing sales slide.
In north DeKalb County near Atlanta, an area where 74 percent of residents are Hispanic noncitizens, bus depots are seeing brisk business as undocumented workers prepare to leave ahead of July 1, when the Georgia law takes effect. Media reports suggest some are heading back to Central and South America, but others are getting on buses heading for New York.