On Illegal Immigration, More Cities Are Rolling out a Welcome Mat

Lourdes Medrano, Christian Science Monitor, November 28, 2013

The passage by conservative state lawmakers of Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070 in 2010 inspired copy-cat measures in several other states that made them similarly hostile to illegal immigrants.

But city leaders in this desert town, in an example of a growing national trend more hospitable to immigrants, are pushing back against Arizona’s “papers, please” law in renewed repudiation of the measure and in a nod to immigrant integration.

Tucson, in liberal-leaning Pima County, is a longtime foe of the tough immigration law designed to push out of state those in the country illegally.

But now the city council is going a step further, voting this month to change how police implement the immigration status inquiries during law enforcement stops, a provision upheld by the US Supreme Court when it struck down most of the rest of SB 1070 in June 2012. For instance, minors may not be questioned away from an attorney or guardian, and people who report a crime can do so without fear of having their immigration status checked.

Tucson made the policy changes about a year after it declared itself an “immigrant welcoming city” and in response to more recent complaints over police treatment of immigrants in the area. The city wants to work within the confines of the state’s law, but at the same time ensure that “we’re not doing the work of border patrol,” says Regina Romero, a Tucson City Council member.

In rolling out an official welcome mat to immigrants, Tucson finds itself in good company. Cities, towns and counties–including formerly inhospitable places toward immigrants–increasingly embrace newcomers through community initiatives, policies, and ordinances.

Chicago, through its Office of New Americans, is implementing its plan to incorporate the city’s half-million foreign-born residents and their children as a crucial part of economic growth; Dayton, Ohio, put in place programs to lure immigrant workers to breathe new life into neighborhoods of empty houses; and Chattanooga, Tenn., is helping connect its small but rapidly-growing immigrant population with local agencies for seamless community integration.

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It is a trend that mirrors that of states passing laws benefiting illegal immigrants in growing rejection of a years-long history of unfriendliness. From January to June this year, 43 states and the District of Columbia enacted such laws or resolutions related to immigration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Much of the measures seek to make life easier for immigrants or simply praise their contributions. In granting in-state tuition and driver’s licenses to people here illegally, several states were reacting to President Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals program. Under it, eligible young people in the country illegally are allowed to stay and work without being deported.

In early October, California passed a series of far-reaching pro-immigrant measures, including one that curbs the ability of federal authorities to deport illegal immigrants. The move came 19 years after state voters passed Proposition 187, a highly controversial ballot measure aimed at limiting services for illegal immigrants that was ruled unconstitutional.

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To some, the trend to embrace people living in the country illegally seems dangerously defiant of federal immigration laws.

While the Department of Justice sued Arizona to keep the state from enforcing its tough immigration law, the federal government has “done nothing to hold these local communities and states accountable for policies that impede immigration enforcement,” says Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

In late October the Washington, D.C.-based organization, which pushes for reduced levels of immigration, released its own study on the proliferation of ordinances, resolutions and other pro-immigrant activity in more than 100 communities. Although some of the actions date back several years, most were adopted under the Obama administration.

The group calls such communities “sanctuary cities,” and the label casts a wide net. {snip}

“What is happening is that because there is a vacuum in Washington, you are having all of these local policies that reflect the interest of the communities that they represent,” Mr. Mehlman says.

Local governments may be reluctant to pursue enforcement measures for fear that the Department of Justice “is going to come down on them like a ton of bricks,” he adds.

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