Immigration Activists Battle Harsh Laws Across U.S.

New America Media, News Report, Marcelo Ballv Posted: Dec 22, 2008

Editor's Note: Realizing that the immigration wars have trickled down into state legislatures and even county boards, those who advocate for immigrants have begun weaving together coalitions to have their voices heard. These groups may include business, civil rights, labor or faith-based organizations. New America Media contributing editor Marcelo Ballv is based in New York.

JACKSON, Miss. -- Ever since the harshest immigration law in the country went into effect in this state July 1st, activists on the ground have mobilized a diverse coalition-- including civil rights, church and labor leaders-- to build opposition to it.

The "Mississippi Employment Protection Act," which passed the legislature with overwhelming support, requires that businesses use the federal E-Verify program to check workers' immigration status and most notably-- makes it a felony for an undocumented worker to accept work in the state, authorizing penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. U.S. residents may also sue businesses if they are fired and replaced by an unauthorized worker.

Mississippi's state capitol isn't alone in legislating a crackdown. Even as Washington D.C.'s immigrant advocates organize to push for comprehensive immigration reform in president-elect Barack Obama's term, the bitterest immigration battles are being waged on the state level. This is happening not only in states like California that are familiar with contentious immigration debates, but also in states once on the sidelines.

Although other state capitols stopped short of creating felony charges for undocumented workers, laws similar to Mississippi's legislation gained approval this year in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Utah and West Virginia.

The state laws can be seen as stopgap measures. Only the federal government has the power to address the immigration system and change the way it works. But after the last effort at immigration reform-- the McCain-Kennedy bill-- failed in the U.S. Senate in 2007, many states decided to take what matters they could into their own hands.

"They have done the one thing in their power: crack down harder, with more aggressive enforcement, new restrictions, new more punitive penalties," reads a June 2008 report by ImmigrationWorks USA, a national organization of state-level business coalitions supporting immigration reform.

Sometimes the new zero-tolerance approach to illegal immigration is not embodied in legislation, but in agreements of varying formality that bind local and state agencies to cooperate with Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

The most well-known of these is a program called "287(g)" , which delegates immigration enforcement authority to state troopers, county sheriffs or local police. Though 287(g) programs have been running since 2003 ICE documents show that half the 63 partnership agreements currently active were signed in the last 16 months-- after immigration reform's failure in mid-2007.

ICE's roster of 287g agreements reads like a map to hotspots in the immigration wars, places where activists say relations between immigrants and the larger community are particularly strained.

According to ICE, Virginia has nine law enforcement agencies participating in 287g, North Carolina eight and Arizona seven, including Maricopa County, known for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's media-grandstanding against illegal immigrants.

ICE also chose North Carolina for four of its seven "Secure Communities" pilot programs, high-tech linkages of local detention facilities to federal fingerprint databases, so that all arrestees' immigration histories can be checked. Immigration-related laws can also be enacted on the county level, as they were in Suffolk County on Long Island, New York. That county's chief executive, Democrat Steve Levy, has also recently come under fire for his outspokenness on illegal immigration after the November hate killing of an Ecuadorean.

This cascade of immigration-related laws and programs, and the political battles being waged over them, will not disappear if an Obama administration fulfills its promise of pushing through comprehensive reform, says A. Elena Lacayo, who tracks legislation for the National Council of La Raza. "It won't necessarily solve all the issues that have been coming about on the state and local level."

Realizing that the immigration wars have trickled down into state legislatures and even county boards, those who advocate for immigrants have begun weaving together coalitions to have their voices heard. These groups may include business, civil rights, labor or faith-based organizations.

A protest in Jackson on Dec. 4 included a Catholic priest, a black state representative, labor leaders, and several veterans of 1960s-era Civil Rights struggles. "Working is not a crime," read one of the banners carried by the protesters as they marched on the state capitol, demanding a repeal of the "Mississippi Employment Protection Act." Bill Chandler of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance called the legislation "wrongheaded and bigoted." Its intention, he said, "is to scare Latinos out of the state."

Chris McDaniel, a Republican state senator and one of the bill's co-authors, debated Chandler the day after the protest on local public radio. "We are not talking about immigrants here, we're talking about illegal immigrants, and there is a huge difference," said McDaniel. "It's not a bigoted bill."

Repeal seems unlikely anytime soon. The bill passed with 52 votes in the state Senate, and none against.

But even in Mississippi, some 200 bills targeting illegal immigrants failed in the past, according to Chandler. And the outcome of other states' battles shows that immigrant advocates can be effective when they push back against punitive legislation.

In Arizona, an outcry from businesses helped win passage this year of a scaled back version of an employer-sanctions law passed in 2007. In Tennessee, 65 bills deemed anti-immigrant by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition were defeated in the 2008 legislative session, including an "English-Only Divers Act" that would eliminate all translations of written driver's license exams.

And just as immigration restrictionists have linked up across state lines to share templates for legislation and media messaging, immigrant advocates have begun to do the same.

The Jackson protest coincided with a three-day meeting here of the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network. Federal immigration reform was discussed, as were ICE raids like the massive Aug. 25 sweep on an electronics plant in southern Mississippi. But most activists seemed more absorbed with the barrage of immigration-related bills in state capitols and the ICE partnerships with state and local law enforcement they say sow distrust between crime-fighters and immigrants.

In the conference rooms, advocates from places like Kentucky; Savannah, Georgia; and Polk County in northern Florida traded stories on how elected officials, from sheriffs to state representatives to governors, had recently staked their claim on the issue of illegal immigration. In the trenches of state legislatures and county houses, immigration battles are increasingly hard-fought and narrowly won by one side or the other.

Describing the fight over one bill, Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said, "we got too close on this one."

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User Comments

June on Dec 23, 2008 at 06:52:54 said:

Congress is too busy making sure they got their recent raise ($4700) to worry about the rest of us having to battle illegals for jobs. I wonder at times if these people that we elect really know what's going on

jerry on Dec 23, 2008 at 06:49:19 said:

caroline kenedy dosnt understand the illigal immigration in new york.if you want come to the united states ttou must have
work visa
a supporteryou must have a I-94 document so you can work here ligaly

frank kinney on Dec 22, 2008 at 22:29:36 said:

when special interest groups are able to stop laws of enforcement in our own country against illegal invaders from the unkown something is very very wrong!a goverment that won't refuses to enforce and close open border? activist judges? the point of all this illegal immigration is it's illegal? where is a problem with dealing with something thats got illegal stamp in front of it? where is a legal argument for support of something thats illegal? thats the BS of all this nonsense? criminal special interest groups stop law and order? americans are being murdered every day by this lack of enforcement? our women and children are being rape! lets say band of americans did the same thing in japan demanding legal rights for american citizens rights who invade their country? china? russia? i mean lets start being for real hear!but our goverment encourages it? protects it? won't enforce our laws? read article in tennessee 2% persent of population is illegal about 100,000 to 150,000 and to force them out of state would create disaster in their economy? they recieve no benefits so they say? they give more than they take to tennessee economy? health care? prison cost? they give more than take? american victims from crime? they always have figures of how many in ones state too? yet they are in the state illegally? like unkown so how would one know how many! sanctuary citys whats that? crime heaven for fugitives from foreign lands? now you get special interest groups banding them togeather to take control of city towns and citys one at a time across america? not a threat? one must be a jack ass not to see the foolishness of this logic? but also what is behind this logic? CHANGE only senseable reason of this criminal conspiracy take over america step by step piece by piece!!! like 2008 election showed us in our voting elections diebold garbage voting machine? which city states refuse to correct and make honest elections? ACORN fraud? undocumented illegal voters? absentee ballots? the same people win elections? ones against illegal immigration lose? i mean we have millions and millions of illegal people in our nation? president elect obama has direct contact to acorn voter fraud gave 800,000 dollars to help them register voters please! own aunt been in our country illegal for over four years? living on the american tax payers? some ten million africans of that sort if not more who knows? acorn and special interest groups that connect to them? chinese how many? middle east? south america? europeans? korea? all of asia? we only seem to talk about illegal mexicans now don't we? throw in refugees? than naturalized citizens? 2007 one million foreign citizenships given out? we have no THREAT in america? INDEPENDENT michigan little big horn AMEN.

DiParra on Dec 22, 2008 at 20:20:03 said:

Harsh laws?
And what do you think other countries around the world have? Open Borders?

Even during the Ellis Island days ALL FOREIGNERS were screened!

Where do these people get off?
Get out of my country you illegal alien bums.
And take your kids with you.

Bobby on Dec 22, 2008 at 19:19:33 said:

Let's take a good look at what is going on here and make things crystal clear. Mississippi has always been the nations poorest state. Americans and their descendants have always had a rough time getting a job in their own state of Mississippi. Now Church leaders!!, as well as racist ethnic interest groups, and communist liberals are working together to take awa jobs from Mississippis heirs. I really don't know how much more treasonous and insane this stuff can get against the United States Citizens.

Delaware Bob on Dec 22, 2008 at 17:24:53 said:


I can't say the ILLEGAL ALIENS are completely to blame for the shape of our economy, but they are a BIG part of the problem. The ILLEGAL ALIENS send BILLIONS upon BILLIONS out of this Country every year, money we will NEVER see again. Does this help our economy?

How about the BILLIONS the American taxpayers fork out for the ANCHOR BABIES, the schooling of them, the medical care and the list goes on, and on, and on.

How about the MILLIONS upon MILLIONS paid to jail ILLEGAL ALIENS for the crimes, then the cost to deport them. Does this help our economy?

I believe it is time for all 50 States to pass a State law, like Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and a few others. It is time for these ILLEGAL ALIENS to go back to their home Country and get out of this Country. The problems they are causing will not go away until the ILLEGAL ALIENS are out of this Country. I think that is plain to see.


Eddie Brown on Dec 22, 2008 at 15:21:04 said:

If illegal aliens are doing low wage jobs Americans won't do, Why do places that have strict hiring policies like starbucks and wholefoods never have a shortage of American employees pouring coffee and checking out groceries for $7.00 per hr.?

Palominas Pinkiris on Dec 22, 2008 at 15:02:20 said:

The 'reporter' has his facts wrong! The Arizona bill DID NOT PASS and the employment act using everify was NOT watered down! I know, I live here and follow these votes carefully!!!!

lance sjogren on Dec 22, 2008 at 14:07:35 said:

here is reality check's most revelatory statement:

"And these humble people do it for minimum wage and never complain."

Reality check, I don't know if you yourself are a sweatshop profiteer, but if not, why do you want to perpetuate a system of labor exploitation in the United States?

I find it bizarre that those on the far left support the sweatshop economy. Of course, the reason they do is not that they love sweatshops, but the fact that they are perfectly happy to throw the American working class under the bus as collateral damage on the path to a Utopian Police State.

Bobbie McLaughlin on Dec 22, 2008 at 13:52:39 said:

If this had anything to do with Immigrants then there wouldn't be any problems. But since this all has to do with Illegal Aliens then yes there is a problem. These groups need to learn the difference before they start whining about how immigrants are being abused. Immigrants are welcome here, however, Illegal Aliens are not !!!!!!!!

Robert Lynch on Dec 22, 2008 at 12:04:18 said:

These people are not immigrants, they are criminals who are breaking the law.
No other country in the world would permit a group with an average IQ of 80, most with little or no education, many illiterate in their own language, people who refuse to assimilate and who will never learn English. They are bringing diseases into our country that were eradicated here over 50 years ago. The Indian population places no value on education. Their "family values" include impregnation 13 year old girls. Drunk driving is "macho."
These invaders steal identity and steal American jobs.
Is this the future you want for America? The medical bills for these invaders is bankrupting our entire health care system.

lance sjogren on Dec 22, 2008 at 11:57:01 said:

reality check guy:

Yada yada, cut the BS about how we need illegal workers.

If the policies you espouse would not cause such cruel effects, they would simply warrant laughter.

The economy is in a downturn. Factories that have been raided because they employ large numbers of illegal aliens have seen Americans line up around the block for those jobs.

Ag jobs are held by a tiny fraction of illegal aliens, by the way.

There was a recent article where Americans are showing up at day labor centers because they need the work.

Your notion that we "need" illegal labor was probably NEVER accurate, but it is absolutely absurd in today's economy.

Furthermore, illegal aliens incur massive costs to the taxpayer. Where's the money going to come from? States and local governments are going bankrupt already.

The US may well be headed for economic oblivion, even if we didn't have illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is yet another big set of nails in our economic coffin, however.

You open-borders guys really need some new talking points that are more in tune with the present-day economy.

Of course, there are NO supporting arguments that anyone would be able to come up with for your point of view. So, all you can do is use the old discredited talking points, even though they now simply make you look like an utter buffoon.

lance sjogren on Dec 22, 2008 at 11:50:52 said:

Hey reality check:

I've got news for you: It is no longer the 19th century.

Your 19th century immigration policies are DISASTROUS for the much different world we live in in the 21st.

I guess you think America is a land of wide open spaces and mountains that need to be leveled and swamps that need to be drained.

Earth to reality check guy: You are living in the past.

JR on Dec 22, 2008 at 11:50:44 said:


lance sjogren on Dec 22, 2008 at 11:48:19 said:

Illegal aliens are not IMMIGRANTS.

Time for the left to stop lying on this issue.

Articles like this are stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment in the US by insinuating that IMMIGRANT is synonymous with ILLEGAL ALIEN.

Immigrants in America need to start speaking out against the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the radical left.

Dean on Dec 22, 2008 at 11:38:46 said:

I wonder if these cuckoos would open the borders for the entire planet or just for the Mexicans. That's a question they've refused to answer for more than ten years.

Buzzm1 on Dec 22, 2008 at 09:26:48 said:






Illegals, using forged, and/or stolen identities, have illegally obtained up to 8.7 million jobs; these are jobs that Americans will do, jobs in food processing, jobs in manufacturing; these are jobs that rightfully belonged to American workers in the first place.


THE ALL-AMERICAN STIMULUS PLAN WILL SAVE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS 300 BILLION DOLLARS EACH, AND EVERY, YEAR (the estimated annual cost of illegal immigrants to American taxpayers)!!!



Buzzm1 on Dec 22, 2008 at 09:25:16 said:




#1. Make Illegal Entry a Felony Permanently Barring Citizenship
#2. Secure Our Borders with our National Guard!!!
#3. Mandate E-Verify for ALL Employees!!!
#4. Cut Off ALL Public Assistance to Illegals and Their Children!!!
#5. Stop the Underground Economy!!!
#6. End Birthright Citizenship for Illegals!!!
#7. End Chain Migration!!!
#8. Make English our Official Language!!!
#9. Cut Off Federal Funds to Sanctuary Cities!!



Reality_Check on Dec 22, 2008 at 09:24:58 said:

You people do not have all the facts. You preach that these people are here illegally, but, how did your ancestors get here? Mine came here thru Ellis Island - with out papers. They left everything to try to make a better life in America. The immigrants without papers are the same.

Not only that, have you ever visited the ranches of california, the fruit fields of florida, ALL the farms of America. I\\\'m a secretary at one of these farms and I can tell you that NO american will do the farm work to pick the fruit for any price. THE WORK IS BACK BREAKING. And these humble people do it for minimum wage and never complain. They are amazing people and I don\\\'t care if they don\\\'t have papers.

I count myself blessed and a better person for knowing them.

Bettybb on Dec 22, 2008 at 07:48:33 said:

These are not pro immigrant groups. They are anti rule of law, pro illegal aliens so the "elite" can have cheap labor and Americans wages can be depressed groups.

Legal immigrants do NOT support the illegal aliens demands for preferential treatment over law abiding people.

Nice try at spin. It hasn't worked.

Why should lawbreaking illegal aliens get preferential treatment on timing of their entry, and not have to meet all the conditons law abiding legal immigrants do?

The Pew Hispanic Center has found allmost all illegal aliens are Hispanic. Why should Hispanic Americans have greater rights to family reunification, in terms of numbers of their family members allowed in and timing of their arrival, and conditions they have to meet, than family member of Americans of all other races and ethinc groups?

In America, no one is above the law, even though illegal aliens boosters want illegal aliens to get immunity for all their crimes (illegal entry, driving without a license, document fraud, id theft, tax evasion) and better treatment than law abiding people.

According to the Nov 2008 Zogby poll of voters, only 21% agree with a pathway to citizenship, 57% think illegal immigration harms American workers, 60% want a crackdown on illegal aliens and their employers, and 67% of Obama voters either did not think the issue was important or voted for Obama despiste his amnesty position.

Richard Pagano on Dec 22, 2008 at 07:47:48 said:

There is a legal process for entering the United States. Those who enter the United States without legal documentation or who allow their visas to lapse or overstay their visas are here illegally. How does the supporters of these undocumented aliens plan on stemming the tide of future illegal immigration after they pass their comprehensive immigration bill. We can't even convince illegals now that once they are deported they should not be returning to the USA. If a law fails to deter a given behavior than one must develop a harsher law. Certainly, illegal entrance has not been detered by our present set of federal laws. We are battling attitudes. Many believe they have a right to come to the USA. Many believe that the end justifies the means and that justifies their breaking of multiple laws to come to the USA. The reasons that latinos are being targeted for hate crimes is their prevasive presence throughout the nation today and the everpresent and growing influence of the Spanish language and hispanic culture. If indeed illegal immigration is to be tolerated and inevitable, I support mass immigration to the USA from other areas besides Mexico and Central America which now accounts for 75% of the illegal immigration flow. In fact, to overcome the inequality caused by proximity, the US government and private organizations should fund the transportation costs for illegals who wish to come to America. Certainly there are many places that have poverty much greater than Mexico and Central America: Brazil, many nations in Africa and in Asia, some areas of Europe, and parts of the Pacific Rim certainly would qualify. Let us be truly worldly about this and give ever one in the world a chance at grasping the brass ring and not just limit the opportunity to those from Mexico or Central America. We are already facing the prospect of a developing cultural and language divide in this country, this would just accelerate and balkanize the process.

HernandezUSA on Dec 22, 2008 at 07:28:05 said:

"We need the SAVE ACT and E-verify used for every business and NOT Amnesty.

E-verify does not discriminate against RACE, Religion, SEX or physically capability only your Citizenship and your LEGAL right to be and work in United States.

If we can stop Predatory business owners from hiring then the Illegal Aliens will not Stay and return to their native Countries.

This ISSUE is not about RACE, but Governments Federal/State/LOCAL not doing their jobs, because big and small business owners want cheap workers and no labor laws to bother with. Its called GREED!

Both Liberals and Conservatives need to take some pride in our Country and protect it from all invading nations citizens and corporate greed.

Please, NO IMMIGRANT BASHING or HATE Crimes. HATE only feeds the single RACE agenda groups for Open Borders and the Media."




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