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Weekly Diaspora: Local Laws Target Immigrants; Activists Take to the Streets

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By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

While immigrant rights groups pressure the federal government via high-profile marches and rallies, anti-immigration forces are pushing punitive laws on the state and local levels. Thousands of immigration reform proponents rallied last week to push federal lawmakers to pass reform this year, but the Arizona House of Representatives passed one of the toughest immigration laws in the country, which enables racial profiling of Latinos.

If the Senate fails to propose a reform bill this Spring, immigration reform won't be on the agenda for 2010. With elections at the end of the year, it's uncertain if reform will pass after that, as the resulting Congress could be more conservative.

More rallies from the grassroots

As Seth Freed Wessler reports at RaceWire, "Rallies for immigration reform were held in at least seven cities on Saturday, including Las Vegas, Seattle and Chicago, and were meant to maintain momentum from the massive march in Washington last month." The rallies were part of a sustained effort by reform supporters to pressure the Senate to take up reform this year.

In Las Vegas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made an appearance and told supporters that the Senate would start work on reform soon after legislators came back from a brief recess this week.

"Speaking before a crowd of more than 6,000, Reid, a vulnerable incumbent, assured his audience of his commitment," Steve Benen wrote for the Washington Monthly.

"We're going to come back, we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform now," Reid was quoted as saying. "We need to do this this year. We cannot wait."

New America Media cites a report from Univision, writing that "Reid, fresh from the fight for health system reform and with a difficult re-election campaign ahead, told demonstrators that there is some urgency to passing legislation to reform the immigration system, including improving border security and creating a guest worker program for seasonal workers."

New America Media also reports on a surprising conservative-evangelical alliance that supports comprehensive immigration reform that protects children and families. "While not entirely new, the involvement of conservative Latino and evangelical leaders in the immigration debate puts additional pressure on Congress and the president to take up the issue this year."

In Seattle, AlterNet reports on the large presence of Asian immigrants at the local rally, quoting Diane Narasaki, executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service: "There are about 1 million Asians living in this country who are undocumented, so comprehensive immigration reform is really key to our community," Narasaki said.

Local laws target immigrants

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Arizona House of Representatives voted along party lines this week to pass a state law that would, as RaceWire's Freed Wessler reports, "make it a criminal offense simply to be an undocumented immigrant on Arizona soil and to require local cops to determine a person's immigration status if there is any 'reasonable suspicion' the person is undocumented."

"The law would essentially require police to racially profile Latinos and threatens to terrorize immigrant communities already trying to survive in what is arguably the country's most anti-immigrant state," writes Freed Wessler.

In Colorado, where a similar state law passed despite wide criticism of civil rights abuses, there are reports on an effort in Denver to push back against a a local city-wide anti-immigrant law that encourages police to impound vehicles of undocumented immigrants.

"Members of the city council here are considering eliminating a controversial vehicle impound law that has raised financial and constitutional questions," Joseph Boven reports for the Colorado Independent. "It's unconstitutional, for example, to require Denver police to judge whether someone driving in Denver without a license might be an illegal alien."

Linking national concerns with local issues, the National Radio Project reports on a panel called "Race, Immigration and the Fight for an Open Internet," which focused on how telecommunications corporations' moves to restrict internet access could affect immigrant communities.

"Right now, telecommunications companies are pursuing a restrictive pay-for-play business model for online access that many say will only further the digital divide, discriminating between those who have Internet access and those who do not," the news outlet notes.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.