Published:  August 3, 2011

Despite all the political drama playing out in Washington these days over our nation’s budget, it seems not a day goes by without some mention of immigration in the news, particularly when it comes to a state or local government trying have a say one way or another.  Regardless of the enactment of this or that state or local measure, it is self-evident that the inevitable conclusion to our nation’s immigration conversation is about choosing one of 2 options – or a version thereof.  It is a choice between 1) robust, consistent and universal enforcement of our immigration laws (removal proceedings for at least 12 million) OR 2) a path to legalization for these 12 million.  So while our U.S. Congress continues to be paralyzed on this and so many other issues, state and local governments continue to scream for attention, with some measures looking to put a vise on the day to day lives of the undocumented and other initiatives looking to make their lives easier.

A recent example of a “vise” measure is the State of Alabama’s enactment of legislation that includes a requirement for local school districts to scrutinize and report the immigration status of all children enrolling in public school, imposing a criminal penalty for an undocumented individual’s mere presence in the US, and criminalizing acts of providing of housing, transportation or employment to undocumented individuals.  Both the spirit and letter of this law mirrors a law recently enacted in Arizona, except that Alabama’s measures are even more harsh.  And just as they did in response to the Arizona law, the U.S. government is challenging the constitutionality of the Alabama law since it seeks to exert power over matters and activities that the U.S. constitution explicitly designates as federal issues and over which the federal government is vested with authority.

On the other side of the coin are measures such as the recently enacted “Illinois Dream Act”, where the State of Illinois makes higher education more accessible to the undocumented population and allows undocumented students avenues toward college scholarships by creating a privately funded program.  The new law creates a 9 member public commission to establish scholarships for certain qualified undocumented children, with all funding coming from private donations.  As many know, already on the books in Illinois are provisions allowing for certain undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at public Illinois universities.

No doubt, we will continue to see a patchwork of new state and local immigration provisions sprout up across the country, some making the lives of the undocumented next to impossible, and others seeking to make their lives easier.  One day, perhaps soon, our U.S. Congress will get the message that it’s their turn – and job! – to act one way or another.

Copyright © 2011, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois