America is considered a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, created by immigration policies that have enabled many to call the U.S. home. These policies are also a matter of contention, especially within the halls of federal and state governments. Issues such as border security, access to foreign workers, and creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants across the country remain a concern. With the lack of a comprehensive way to address the aforementioned, states have both looked to the federal government for guidance and pursued ways to alleviate issues on their own.
Immigration and immigration reform, once burning hot issues in Congress, have since lost political sizzle. After failed attempts by both chambers, including the Senate’s comprehensive approach, Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744), the House’s multiple immigration bills, H.R. 1417; H.R. 2131; and H.R. 2278; and H.R. 15, a bill introduced by House Democrats in late 2013 that incorporates more Republican provisions, the future of immigration reform remains uncertain. In the midst of congressional inaction, several pro-immigration advocates are putting pressure on the House to move.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) has passed numerous resolutions on immigration insisting on laws rooted in human decency and parity between immigrant groups in how they are treated:
- LJE-07-10; Immigration Reform
- LMV-04-13; Calling for Immigration Reform
- LJE-11-25; Opposition to Arizona Immigrations Laws
- IA-04-30; Support for Liberian Refugees Immigration Fairness Act
- LJE-06-89 Non-Citizen Immigrants Afforded Due Process of Law
More specifically, LJE-07-10 recognizes the need for comprehensive immigration reform that best reflects American values by keeping families together, providing an earned path to citizenship for current and future immigrants, protecting workers, strengthening national security, and creating better ways to integrate immigrants into American life.
States have as approached immigration from a variety of standpoints: human trafficking, legal rights, adequate health care, and education. While these social problems may pose a challenge for everyone, they tend to have a disproportionate effect on immigrants and their families. States are therefore leading the charge, improving the overall quality of life for each and every immigrant in the United States.
SB 242 (2013) Human Trafficking Act of 2013
|NBCSL Sponsor: Senator Joyce Elliot
Summary: The Arkansas Human Trafficking Act establishes a task force which will create a state plan for preventing human trafficking, forced labor, and commercial sex exploitation. It also increases public awareness, provides training to law enforcement, creates criminal penalties for those found guilty of trafficking and sex exploitation, and provides victims with civil remedies.
Goals: The goals of SB 242 were to: (1) reinforce human trafficking laws; (2) encourage victims of human trafficking to come forward; and (3) prevent future incidents of forced labor (and sex exploitation).
Concerns: The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate; there were no concerns at time of passage.
HB 1079 (2003) An Act Relating to Resident Tuition at Institutions of Higher Education
|NBCSL Sponsor: Representative Eric Pettigrew
Summary: Similar to the federally proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, Washington State’s bill was crafted to aid undocumented, immigrant children. It allows for them to receive in-state, or “resident” tuition to Washington state public colleges and universities after meeting the following requirements: (1) graduation from a Washington high school (or a completed GED with at least three years of high school) and (2) completion of an affidavit to the college or university indicating they have filed or will file an application for permanent residency once eligible.
Goals: The goal of HB 1079 was to provide greater opportunities for undocumented students to achieve a higher education without paying higher costs.
Concerns: The bill does not address the lack of state financial aid for students, especially those unable to receive federal financial aid because of their immigration status. Additionally, depending on the status of their paperwork, graduates will find difficulty in securing work because of their immigration status.
HB 6659 (2013)The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act
|NBCSL Sponsors: Representatives Gary Holder-Winfield, Brandon McGhee, Charles Stallworth, and Patricia B. Miller; Senators Eric D. Coleman and Toni Nathaniel Harp
Summary: The TRUST Act restricts the use of civil immigration detainers. A civil immigration detainer is a policy that requires law enforcement agencies to hold an undocumented immigrant in custody once notified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of its intention to arrest and deport that undocumented immigrant.1 Detainers are a part of the federal government’s Secure Communities program, which requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to send fingerprints to DHS to find individuals who are unlawfully in the U.S. or removable because of a criminal conviction.
Connecticut’s bill restricts detainers to persons who: (1) have been convicted of a felony, (2) are subject to pending criminal charges in Connecticut where bond has not been posted, (3) have an outstanding warrant in the state, (4) are identified as known gang members in databases that record gang activity, (5) are identified as possible matches in the federal Terrorist Screening Database or anything similar, (6) are subject to a final order of deportation, or (7) present an unacceptable risk to public safety. It also limits the amount of time an individual can be detained to 48 hours before being released.
Goals: The goal of the TRUST act was to decrease civil detainment, reduce costs to the state, prevent unnecessary deportations, and promote civil and human rights.
Concerns: Opponents view the bill as making it more difficult to protect the U.S. from dangerous individuals by deterring cooperation between law enforcement agencies.
HF 1233 (2013) Health and Human Services
|NBCSL Sponsor: Representative Rena Moran
Summary: Certain provisions of HF 1233 provide health coverage, through MinnesotaCare, for authorized noncitizens ineligible for federal assistance. For example, the bill covers pregnant women throughout their pregnancy and 60 days after delivery and also extends coverage to families and single adults living up to 200 percent under the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Lastly, it provides coverage for dialysis services and cancer treatment under emergency medical services for everyone.
Goals: The goal this section of HF 1233 was to offer families and individuals – regardless of immigration status – health coverage and services.
Concerns: None found.
Although it is unclear what steps federal lawmakers will take on immigration reform, state legislators are primed to create fair and equitable policies that will help individuals integrate smoothly into American life. After going through the process of starting life anew, people should not be met with additional obstacles. NBCSL continues to be dedicated to actions that facilitate success for all people.