Updated: 2012 Ushers in New Laws Impacting Immigrants


More states now require employers to use E-Verify to check work authorization status of new hires. (Photo: windley/flickr)

New state immigration laws took effect this week. These include Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennesseestatutes which require employers to confirm that new hires have work authorization through E-Verify, a federal database that crosschecks employee information against the records of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Opponents of E-Verify say it burdens immigrants because the database is prone to error.

In this election year, laws in KansasRhode IslandTennessee and Texas will require all voters to present photo IDs come November.  Some of these laws are directly connected to the fear that non-citizen immigrants will vote in elections. A Tennessee statute will require election officials to compare the Voter Registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure non-U.S. citizens aren’t registered to vote. If the database crosscheck reveals any discrepancies, these individuals must show citizenship papers.

On the other hand, California stands out in having a number of new laws which benefit the immigrant community.

California took the opposite stance of many states and made it illegal for municipalities to mandate that companies use E-Verify unless required by federal law.

AB 176 requires test sponsors of graduate exams such as GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT to provide alternative methods for verifying a test taker’s identity. Newcomers who have yet to acquire driver’s licenses or other traditional forms of identification stand to benefit from this ordinance.

SB 126 makes it easier for farm workers, who are predominantly immigrants, to join unions and advocate for labor rights. Employers are prohibited from engaging in unfair labor practices such as preventing farm workers from holding a secret ballot election.

AB 353 prohibits impounding the vehicles of those stopped at sobriety checkpoints and found to be without a valid license.

SB 657 requires large retailers and manufacturers to inform consumers what steps have been taken to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking which disproportionately victimizes immigrants.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that a wide range of laws in at least 21 states took effect on New Year’s Day. Many of these statutes affect the lives of the 37 million immigrants who call America home.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 4, 2012. The editors cut the following section which might of  interest to some readers:

New civil rights laws are now in place which can protect some immigrants.

California has amended its Fair Employment and Housing Act to protect members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women and men, some of whom also belong to the immigrant community.

Delaware and Hawaii legalized civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. The Williams Institute estimates that there are 28,500 binational gay couples in which one partner is an immigrant and nearly 11,500 gay couples in which neither is a U.S. citizen. Although gay unions, unlike straight ones, do not currently provide a path to citizenship for foreign-born spouses, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act will eventually allow gay Americans to sponsor their immigrant spouses.


Both Parties Propose Immigration Bills But Pass None

Immigration activists marched on the Capitol last October - Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W

Immigration activists in front of the Capitol. (Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W)

Democrats are thinking of introducing an immigration bill as early as December, CNN reported Monday. It is not clear what it would cover—possibly the DREAM Act—but apparently Congressional Democrats would like it to differentiate themselves from Republicans in order to secure Latino votes in 2012.

GOP lawmakers tend to focus on border security and enforcement. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, for instance, passed the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month and a vote in the Republican-controlled house is expected soon. The law would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to ignore environmental laws on federal lands including Glacier National Park and the Great Lakes.

The Scott Gardner Act is another Republican-sponsored bill and it seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by directing the U.S. Attorney General to take into federal custody any unauthorized immigrant arrested for a DWI or similar infraction by state and local law enforcement officials. The Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act likewise seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by penalizing states and other jurisdictions that block E-Verify and Secure Communities.

While trying to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Republican House members have simultaneously presented bills recently meant to attract foreign investors and high-skilled professionals. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act which would eliminate country quotas for employment-based green cards. Rep. Raul Labrador proposed the American Innovation and Education Act of 2011 which would speed up green card applications for foreign-born grad students who have high-tech jobs waiting for them. These bills signify an acknowledgment in the GOP that immigration policy for legal immigrants needs to be reformed.

If the Democrats introduce anything, it will most likely be a bill that acquiesces to the GOP imperative for border security and enforcement while re-introducing DREAM Act provisions. Like all other federal immigration legislation, it will go nowhere. Fact is, nothing major will pass anytime soon. Not before the upcoming elections or during the 113th Congress, regardless of who takes control of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the White House.

Immigration laws that myopically emphasize border security and enforcement will not win the hearts of Latinos, even if this rapidly growing group of voters agrees with other Republican concepts. These proposals may pander to the conservative nativist base and pretend to address our nation’s economic woes, but at the end of the day, these measures skirt around the obvious need for comprehensive immigration reform, which many Latinos consider priority numero uno.

It is helpful to know where parties and politicians stand on immigration so we can hold them accountable. Party allegiance is not set in stone, a concept many of us are starting to embrace.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 27, 2011.

If E-Verify Becomes Mandatory, It Won’t Solve Nation’s ‘Immigration Problem’

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Tuesday introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164), a bill the lawmaker claims “could open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans and legal immigrants” by making E-Verify mandatory for all employers.

E-Verify, an Internet-based system which confirms a person’s employment eligibility based on immigration status, is administered by the U.S Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Currently, E-Verify is optional for most businesses, though Arizona and Mississippi require it statewide, and it’s mandatory for many businesses with federal contracts or subcontracts. More than 225,000 U.S. employers, large and small, use the program now, and DHS estimates about 1,000 new businesses sign up each week. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, ruled that Arizona’s Employer Sanctions law requiring the use of E-Verify is legal. This may have motivated Smith to propose his bill.

“Despite record unemployment,” Smith argued, “seven million people work in the U.S. illegally.  These jobs should go to legal workers.” He adds that “E-Verify is a successful program to help ensure that jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers,” and asserts that “there is no other legislation that can be enacted that will create more jobs for American workers.”

Opponents of the measure immediately voiced their dissent.

Civil liberties advocates such as the ACLU protest that the bill encroaches on the privacy of citizens that have done nothing wrong by collecting their biometric information.  Latino and immigrant rights groups contend that the current E-Verify system is already error-prone as it is. Farmworker advocates and the agricultural industry, particularly concerned about how E-Verify will effect their livelihoods, argue that the bill would do more harm than good.

In a joint statement, Farmworker Justice and the United Farm Workers reason that if the bill passes, “undocumented farmworkers would feel tied to their employers, and would be reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair conduct for fear of losing their job and the ability to work.” Furthermore, they predict that such a law “would deepen problems in the farm labor force by encouraging even more employers to use farm labor contractors to avoid obligations under E-Verify.” The same argument is likely to be used by immigrant advocates in the service industry.

The debate will no doubt continue, as with any other initiative proposed by either political party that purports to solve the “immigration problem.”  A measure that addresses only one aspect of the broken immigration system and is born out of ideology will not be universally welcomed.

The 2012 elections already looms on the horizon. Republicans and Democrats – including the Obama administration – have not shown a willingness to seriously look at the immigration system in its entirety and attempt a holistic approach. Rather, they can be expected to rouse their bases with red meat and dodge immigration reform once again. A few will pander to the growing immigrant population and their native-born children, who are becoming hard to ignore. In the meantime, the system will remain broken.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, June 16, 2011.