FIRM testimony to House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration: Lack of CIR puts undue financial, social cost on states and localities

We continue to watch each of the House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearings on Immigration over the next few weeks. Yesterday, the committee held a hearing on the impact of immigration on states and localities.  FIRM has been doing consistent work around immigrant rights at the state and local level (get our toolkit HERE ). FIRM submitted testimony to the congressional record for this hearing. The full text is below- Post your feedback HERE!

Statement of the Fair Immigration Reform MovementTo the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law 

Hearing on the Impact of Immigration on States and Localities 

May 17, 2007 

Madam Chairwoman, thank you for holding this important hearing on a critical aspect of immigration that has been widely overlooked by many working towards comprehensive immigration reform. States and localities are facing the political consequences of the federal government’s inability to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and communities have been shaken by unworkable and costly attempts at legislating immigration at the state and local level. We have already heard from panelists last week who have testified before this committee that immigrants have significant positive impacts on our economies. Without comprehensive immigration reform, states are unable to take advantage of the benefits their immigrant families and residents can bring.  

Several states have issued reports in the last few years attesting to the positive economic impact that immigrants can have on a state economy. One of the most recent reports from Nevada, conducted by the Center on Work and Community Development at the request of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, highlights the fact that immigrants have become an integral and valuable part of Nevada’s economic infrastructure. Not only do immigrants keep the industries of Nevada thriving, but they continue to provide increasing tax revenue into the state. In 2005, immigrants in Nevada paid $2.6 billion in federal taxes, up 44% from 2000. Their estimated federal taxes for the fiscal year 2007-2008 are $3.4 billion. Moreover, the money that immigrants spend in Nevada accounts for 25% of the state’s Gross State Product, providing a crucial source of income for the state. Their subsequent integration into the state has further led to the creation of 108,380 jobs for the state. 

In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, states and local jurisdictions have attempted to make piecemeal reforms on their own by drafting and passing immigration legislation. On the one hand, dozens of localities have passed sanctuary and other resolutions in support of immigrants, many other localities have passed tougher enforcement legislation without certainty regarding the legality of these laws. In many cases these are highly emotional and polarized debates that have led to untenable long term situations where local governments often unintentionally take on the costs better paid for by the federal government.According to the National Conference of State legislators, over the last 3 years we have seen an exponential increase in the number of state-leve immigration legislation: in 2005 approximately 80 pieces of legislation concerning immigration were introduced into state legislatures, in 2006 570 bills were introduced and in the first few months of 2007 state legislators in all of the 50 states have already introduced 1169 bills. Most of these bills are aimed at doing the job of the federal government. For example, many bills would turn local businesses into ICE officers by requiring them to check the status of prospective employees without a sufficiently accurate federal electronic verification system in place.

One such bill has already been introduced in South Carolina, where the state office on budget has estimated that the administrative costs of the new bill would cost some localities upwards of $75,000 to $150,000 to implement. In Colorado, the Denver Post recently reported that the state legislation HR 1023, aiming to end state spending on undocumented immigrants, has cost the state over 2 million dollars and has failed to save the state any money. When it was first introduced, the cost was estimated at a mere $6,600. In reality the cost of enforcement has skyrocketed, leaving the burden in taxpayer’s pockets. Moreover, the Attorney General of Colorado has declared that the Colorado immigration law, enacted in the summer of 2006, “unenforceable.”

In addition to state legislation, many city councils have attempted to legislate immigration within their own jursidiction. This legislation is unworkable and costly. No court in the US has upheld these ordinances to date, and the costs of litigation on this legislation can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Experts report that Farmer’s Branch, TX could pay in the millions of dollars defending a recent immigration ordinance that was recently passed by referendum vote on May 12. Another city, Escondido, CA, has already spent $200,000 of valuable city funds in defending an ordinance that was eventually tabled in an out of court settlement. This form of legislation has also served to inject divisiveness and emotional trauma into innocent, law abiding immigrant communities. We recently spoke with our affiliate in Idaho, the Idaho Community Action network about a family with legal permanent resident status who was too afraid to send their children to Sunday school for fear of anti-immigrant backlash.Not only does this state legislation bear a high finanical and moral cost, but it is highly ineffective. States are not equipped with the infrastructure to do the federal government’s job. One prime example of this has been the increasing enforcement of federal immigration law by state and local police enforcement. The Major Cities Chiefs report of 2006 noted that local police departments are being forced to take on a political issue at the expense of their own mission. Furthermore, enforcing federal immigration law jeopardizes our public safety by estranging immigrant communities from local law enforcement.

State and local legislation is not simply targeting the Latino community. It is affecting all immigrants, of all races, creeds and cultural backgrounds. Many of the families affected by the legislation have mixed citizenship, putting the well being of american citizens at risk as well. Moreover, this legislation is not simply affecting the undocumented immigrant community. As noted above, legal permanent residents, refugees, and children of immigrants are living in real fear of what legislation their state or locality might pass in the absence of federal comprehensive immigration reform.