Federalism in a Dubious Cause


With federalism on our minds today, the Los Angeles Times reports on recent state efforts to beef up immigration restrictions beyond federal law:

In the first six months of last year, states considered about 300 immigration-related bills and passed 36 of them, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.

Florida allowed state law officers to arrest illegal immigrants. Arizona barred day-laborer centers from receiving public funds. Virginia denied some state benefits to undocumented workers.

This year, the proposals include cutting off benefits to illegal immigrants, allowing local police to identify those in the country illegally and, in Arizona, sending National Guard troops to secure the Mexican border.
Though the legislative season is young and state representatives and senators are refining their proposals, certain trends have emerged. A few proposals are friendly to illegal immigrants, such as a Massachusetts bill to extend in-state college tuition to them. But most are crystallizing around three categories: denying benefits, allowing local police to arrest people for being in the country illegally, and increasing fines on employers who hire undocumented workers.

The first of those three categories is unobjectionable, and could in fact help eliminate some anti-immigrant sentiment (though lots of people seem to have problems with working immigrants, as well as supposedly freeloading ones). The latter two are misguided and potentially dangerous. Most big cities with large immigrant populations have very wisely avoiding screwing with citizen-cop relations by turning local police into enforcers of immigration law. Having cops try to enforce such laws tends to make immigrant populations afraid to ever deal with the police for fear of immigration-related contretemps, which makes policing in immigrant-heavy communities more difficult than it has to be.

For some of the effects of "getting tough on immigrants" that even these activist state legislators might not like, see this op-ed by Nick Gillespie and Jesse James DeConto on immigrants' role in the Christmas tree industry. And Reason subscribers–and that could (and should) be you–and why not consider gift subscriptions for state legislators considering immigration crackdowns?–have already seen DeConto's February cover story "America's Criminal Immigration Policy: How U.S. Law Punishes Hard Work and Fractures Families."