US: Some places revisit immigration laws
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Wed Feb 11 15:04:27 UTC 2009
Some places revisit immigration laws
By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY
Some states, cities and counties that plunged into the immigration
debate are having second thoughts. In Texas, Alabama and elsewhere,
lawmakers have repealed or modified measures that cracked down on
illegal immigrants or made English the official language. In Iowa and
Utah, legislators are proposing similar reversals. They cite various
reasons, including the time and expense of fighting legal challenges,
the cost of implementing the measures while tightening their budgets
and the barrage of publicity and accusations of racism that come with
"For us to spend our time pitting neighbor against neighbor was a
sacrilege," says Judith Camp, a city councilwoman in Oak Point, Texas,
about 35 miles north of Dallas, who voted to kill the city's
English-only resolution in December. The measure, adopted in 2007 on a
3-2 vote, was rescinded on a 3-2 vote. "We're just a tiny little city
and we were getting a lot of negative publicity."
Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, which analyzes
immigration trends and policies, says some states and communities are
"taking a more skeptical view" of immigration laws because of the
legal costs and attention. Most state and local laws that passed as
federal reform failed remain in place, and some communities have
mounted expensive campaigns to keep them. Farmers Branch, Texas, has
steadfastly defended its ordinances despite legal challenges and
public protests. Chishti nonetheless expects more lawmakers to
reconsider."The cost of enforcing and defending these ordinances is
enormous," he says. "The appetite for these things is going down."
Rob Toonkel, spokesman for U.S. English, a group that wants to make
English the official language of the USA, counters that English-only
proposals remain popular. Thirty states have such laws, he says, and
there are far more states and communities proposing new laws than
attempting to repeal them. "The momentum is still on the side of
assimilation," he says.
In Iowa, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Hunter wants to repeal a law that
makes English the state's official language and requires most
government documents to be in English. "It's really sent out the wrong
message about the state of Iowa," he says. The Madison County (Ala.)
Commission last August toned down a policy that requires businesses
bidding for contracts to sign a pledge saying they don't knowingly
employ illegal immigrants. The change was part of a settlement with a
company that was late in submitting the pledge and did not win the
contract. The new pledge no longer says county officials can inspect
contractors' personnel records.
"I would prefer it to be much stronger," says Commissioner Mo Brooks,
author of the original policy. After studying legal opinions and
federal law, though, the commission had no other choice, he says. In
Utah, two legislators, one from each party, have proposed delaying
implementation of a law set to take effect in July. The bill's
provisions include a requirement that government agencies check the
legal status of new hires against a federal database.
Republican state Rep. Stephen Clark, author of one proposal, wants to
delay the bill for a year to study the economic impact of illegal
immigrants on the state.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, supports a delay, says
spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.
"We are in the process of making major cuts all across the board in
government, including public education," says Clark, who puts the cost
of implementing the immigration law at $1.7 million. "We believe now
is not the time to invest that money into this issue, especially when
we don't know whether illegal immigration is a financial plus or minus
to the state."
In Farmers Branch, legal bills haven't kept the city from sticking
with its immigration law. Farmers Branch has spent $1.6 million so far
to fight lawsuits challenging its effort to prevent illegal immigrants
from renting apartments and houses, says finance director Charles Cox.
In one case, it will have to pay up to $900,000 in plaintiffs' legal
The $1.6 million represents 1.5% to 2% of the city's budget, but
residents approved one of its ordinances with more than two-thirds of
the vote and want lawmakers to fight, Cox says.
"We can certainly find other uses for the money," he says. "By the
same token, the residents have made their voices heard that this is a
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