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Kristian Ramos Headshot

Could Local Governments Become Incubators of Pro-Immigrant Laws

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In the absence of any Congressional action on immigration reform, states have stepped into the void. While some states have passed immigration laws that are purely punitive, enforcement centric and redundant, mirrored on existing federal laws (mostly to disastrous effect), others are beginning to look for ways to work with the federal government to find ways to enhance their states labor and economic base by finding ways to allow undocumented immigrants to work legally.

Kansas City, home of anti immigrant mastermind Kris Kobach, has become an incubator of this new type of law. While this legislation is not likely to pass it does present some fascinating questions. Given the uncertainty over how the Supreme Court will rule on Arizona's SB1070 lawsuit, it is possible that the court could strike down portions of the law yet leave other parts intact. In such a scenario, the Kansas legislation becomes an interesting wrinkle in the current debate over state passed immigration laws. If Congress refuses to act, why wouldn't more states like Kansas work with the Department of Homeland Security to continue to make tweaks to current immigration laws which utilize the population of hard working, tax paying, and good standing immigrants currently in the country. This presents a choice for states grappling with anti-immigration legislation, pass punitive legislation or find a way to harness the positive impact of immigrants already living in their cities.

The choice shouldn't be too hard, enough data exists that shows that states that have passed enforcement centric laws have suffered economically. According to a new report, Alabama, the state with by far the most punitive immigration legislation is said to be costing the state up to 80,000 jobs which may be vacated by undocumented immigrants fleeing the state. Overall this will cost the state up to $10.8 billion. Similar problems can be seen in Georgia and South Carolina. With overwhelming data regarding the loss of labor and tax money, why would any state in these tough economic times risk passing such laws, especially when, that labor force is liable to pick up and leave for another state with more reasonable immigration laws?

The Kansas state Department of Agriculture and the state's business community worked with members of the state legislature to draft legislation that worked with the federal government to create a legal process for agricultural-related businesses to recruit undocumented workers to fill positions that advocates say are hard to fill with American citizens. This model is far from perfect, particularly since as some members of the State legislature have pointed out; it is hypocritical for a state which denies American citizen children of undocumented citizens the ability to have food stamps, to want to utilize the same population for labor purposes.

States have entered into partnership with the federal government on immigration before but it has always been enforcement centric. If Congress is not going to act on a comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system, and other states are going to push economically destructive immigration laws shouldn't there be more of an emphasis on finding ways for states to work with the federal government to find ways to create more legal avenues for hardworking immigrant families to work.

The Republican Party has long complained about the unfairness of our current system and the issues of legality, yet they refuse to change the laws in Congress to create a system that rewards legality. Given that we are in grid lock on this issue, and that states are passing are already passing their own laws, perhaps if not just for the sake of argument doesn't it makes sense to have greater clarity and input on how best to process legal immigration in the states by the states for the states.

In processing this idea, consider: in Kansas the entire reason the state legislature took up the idea of creating pathways for legal workers, is because there was a rumor that the state was going to pass a law like SB-1070 which caused half of the migrant labor force to leave. Mind you this population did not leave the country, just the state. Merely a hint of passing one of these laws causes economic devastation that should give pause to other states, and hopefully inspire those state legislators who are passionate about legal immigration to take up arms and fight for what is best for their states, work with the federal government and find ways to create a more perfect union.