By introducing progressive state measures that effectively integrate immigrants into the community—rather than alienating them from their neighbors--these legislators are pointing the way toward immigration reform while also expanding opportunities for all residents and workers.
The group, State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, outlined its vision for change at a press briefing this week. They highlighted measures now in place or that legislators are currently advancing.
At the briefing, participants described a range of positive measures, such as those that promote community policing, prevent wage theft and provide basic health care coverage for legal immigrant children. The lawmakers demonstrated how sensible, inclusive and often cost-effective approaches to immigration policy are progressing in some states, providing a stark contrast to the alarmist legislation in Arizona.
In Iowa, for example, wage-enforcement legislation that expands opportunities and defends the rights of all workers passed the State Senate in 2008. Although it was not enacted, legislators will introduce a similar bill in 2011.
According to Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the bill’s sponsor, protecting all workers from bad-apple employers—those who attempt to cheat their employees out of fair pay and safe working conditions--will benefit workers across the board.
Bolkcom’s state plays home to one of the nation’s most infamous examples of worker exploitation: the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant, in Postville, Iowa. Its owners were charged with violating the workplace rights of over 300 immigrant workers.
"Our legislation targets employers who want to take advantage of any Iowa worker, including newcomers, because all workers deserve protection from exploitation," Bolkcom stated. "It will defend the rights of workers, strengthen families and strengthen Iowa communities."
In Utah, progressive efforts to restore fairness in health care to legal immigrant children have, during the past two years, come close to passing in the legislature.
The legislation, proposed by Utah State Senator Luz Robles would enable legal immigrant children to receive preventive medical care through the federally-funded Medicaid and State Child Health Plus (SCHIP) programs without the current five year waiting period for immigrants included in President Obama’s recently passed health care package.
"The removal of the waiting period for legal immigrants who are playing by the rules to receive coverage is simply good public policy from a health care perspective," noted Robles. "We introduced and will continue to advance it, because our number one priority is getting more children health care coverage."
In Pennsylvania, legislators have taken the lead in efforts to introduce and advance community policing and anti-racial profiling legislation. Such measures would bar state and local law enforcement officers from taking on the added responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws, while helping to curb incidents of racial profiling in the event they are required to by courts or the law.
Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach explained that the progressive approach is favored by the law enforcement community. "Police chiefs around the nation have made the point that the obligation contained in the Arizona law to enforce federal immigration law will undermine their ability to do their jobs," Leach noted.
As pro-immigrant legislation moves forward, Arizona’s economy is already reeling from the negative economic effects of SB1070. "Despite the claims of its supporters, Arizona's SB1070 actually does nothing to address violence at the border and presents obstacles for law enforcement professionals, who want to provide good community policing," explained State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
The failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform is increasing the pressure on state and local governments to address the issue within their own jurisdictions. Progressive state legislators continue to be ahead of the curve in filling this vacuum by exploring effective ways to incorporate immigrants into their communities rather than driving them out--and missing the mark.
Hopefully, such state-led efforts will help spur national change--change that is sorely needed.
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