Arizona immigration law faces Supreme Court, states take hardline on immigration

Arizona’s controversial ‘papers please,’ law will go before the Supreme Court this week on questions of whether the oversteps federal immigration statutes violating the federal supremacy clause. While significant, the challenge to Arizona’s law is just one of several developments happening on the immigration issue at all levels of government. Last week several other states approved changes to local immigration laws that run the spectrum from allowing prenatal care for undocumented individuals to blocking access to public services.

Immigration has been part of the national dialogue since the beginning. In this election year, the issue is again at the center of policy discussions. At the state level immigration issues have been more consistently pursued as many newly elected governors ran on the issue as a core part of their platform. Since 2010 when many state’s elected new governors there has been a rise in legislation aimed at managing immigration those bills. Bills which impact the lives of individuals in the US and many layers of government including human services, law enforcement, and education.

So far, the broad trend at the state level has been toward closing access to public services for individuals who are undocumented. However, the approach has been largely schizophrenic, creating a patchwork of legislation that would make it impossible for any citizen documented or otherwise to fully understand what rights they are really allowed in each state.

This has led to some work toward a broader federal guidance or an overarching federal statute. However, much like with every other issue on the national agenda consensus in Washington has been impossible to achieve.

Arizona under fire, Alabama doubles down

SB1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration bill is being challenged for potentially overstepping federal statutes. The law requires law enforcement to try to determine the status of anyone they stop or arrest, and authorizes police to make warrantless arrests of anyone they believe has committed a crime for which they could be deported.

So far, courts in Arizona have blocked the state from enforcing those provisions, a move which has been rigorously appealed by the Governor. Utah, Indiana, and Georgia have passed similar provisions and are expected to be watching the Supreme Court case closely. Washington appellate lawyer Paul Clement and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli – the two lawyers who argued the health care reform case earlier in the docket are set to go head-to-head again on this issue.

While Arizona’s law is under scrutiny, Alabama has gone even further – HB 56, a law passed last year requires nearly all aspects of society to demand papers when individuals attempt to access services. Public schools must ask for papers before accepting students, and it also makes it a class C felony for an undocumented individual to attempt to get a license plate, business license, or nondriver ID cards. Undocumented individuals would also be barred from renting housing or apply for work.

While the measure is targeted specifically at individuals without proper documents, the new requirements also add a significant and unrealistic documentation requirement to lawful citizens. Especially low-income individuals seeking public benefits. The state legislature has taken up a bill to “tweak” the hard language - HB 658 in an effort to make it more enforceable as state officials find themselves awash in verifications some of which have led to embarrassing arrests of known businesspeople and required intervention from the Governor.

DREAMs shattered

Last week, Florida Senator and potential vice presidential candidate Marco Rubio called on Congress to pass the his party’s version of the DREAM Act last week. The DREAM Act would allow for access to more affordable education for undocumented individuals.

Any version of the DREAM Act is unlikely to pass in an election year. Rubio’s comments may also impact the Republican campaign effort as Candidate Mitt Romney has staked out a tough anti-immigrant stance in his campaign so far.

In Rhode Island lawmakers are attempting to reverse a decision made last year by the the Board of Governors for Higher Education Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education which voted unanimously to offer undocumented students in-state tuition at the state’s public university and colleges. The decision was made after the state legislature failed to pass the Rhode Island version of the DREAM Act. The move was supported by Governor Chaffee, but some lawmakers contend that the decision never had legislative approval.

Governor Chaffee said in his statement of support for the measure that offering in-state tuition to undocumented individuals ended a “needless roadblock,” and will allow more Rhode Islanders to have access to a college education. Lawmakers opposed to the decision are advancing a bill that would require high school students to have attended Rhode Island high schools for three years and commit to applying for citizenship if they are undocumented before becoming eligible for instate tuition.

Anti-immigration laws impacts citizen’s rights

The fight over immigration at the federal level has also had an impact on rights for US citizens. The Violence Against Women Act, a federal law that allows for the protection of women and children who are the victims of violent attack was questioned by Senator Grassley (R-Iowa), who said in a congressional hearing that he was concerned that protecting abuse victims could be “an avenue to expand immigration law or give additional benefits to people here unlawfully.”

In a surprising move last week, the Nebraska state legislature overrode a veto by Governor Dave Hineman that sought to curb access to pre-natal care for undocumented women. The legislature was able to muster enough votes to reverse the decision and host the cost through a state health care program for children, a move which has been lauded as pro-life – highlighting an interesting twist in conservative views of social policy.

A host of voter ID laws are springing up around the country, with supporters claiming that voter fraud is rampant despite being one of the least reported crimes in the country. The laws typically require multiple forms of identification when an individual attempts to vote at a polling place – a transparent maneuver designed to block individuals without identification. However, the laws also effectively keep many US citizens out of the voting process.

Older Americans who were born during racial segregation and were not granted documents like birth certificates are now finding themselves locked out of a voting process they have participated in for decades. The bills also impact college students who may have left identifying documentation with their parents while away from home and be unaware that they are now prohibited from voting if they can’t rely on their student ID.

Texas and South Carolina have come under fire for such laws, which the Justice Department says violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Both states have taken the Justice Department to court over its move to block those state laws.

In arguing for it’s law, South Carolina said that ID requirements are “at most a minor inconvenience,” to exercising one’s rights.

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