Local (in)hospitality

By Michelle Chen Jun 09, 2009

Official attitudes toward immigrants across America are remarkably diverse, ranging from public embrace to stiff exclusion. If you happened to pass through Tennessee last week, you might have heard Republican lawmaker Joe Carr vigorously slamming the door on undocumented workers. He has advanced a bill to block local governments from explicitly restricting police from enforcing federal immigration law. The legislation purports to address illegal immigration on a local level, Carr argues, since the federal government has failed to do so. The bill is designed to preempt the so-called “sanctuary city”–a community that pledges to treat immigrants as contributing members as opposed to liabilities. Dozens of cities, including San Francisco and New York, have attempted to foster public safety by barring local authorities from working as ad-hoc immigration agents. As Carr leads the anti-sanctuary crusade, Calumet City, Illinois is weighing measures to strengthen the legal wall between police and immigration enforcement, to affirm support for the area’s growing Latino community. At the same time, a federal appeals court has given a green light to a controversial anti-immigrant ordinance in Valley Park, Missouri that forbids businesses from hiring undocumented workers. The law parallels similar measures around the country, including a notorious policy in Hazleton, Pennsylvania that is still being fought out in court. The Valley Park ordinance has not been formally enforced, though its provisions may dovetail with recently passed state legislation. Meanwhile in Maryland, immigrants are trying to navigate a new driver’s license system geared toward immigrants affected by the Real ID Act. While the measure aims to provide undocumented immigrants with driving authorization despite licensing restrictions, advocates worry that the two-tiered system might encourage police profiling. All these laws fold into a frayed patchwork of political responses to immigration anxieties. Each new initiative captures the impulses and fears of local residents, and even pro-immigrant measures merely nibble around gray areas in federal law. In the absence of a coherent national policies, whether local ordinances welcome or shun immigrants, the gate swings arbitrarily at the whim of their neighbors. Image: Isaac Chang of the Minuteman Project, left, argues with a counter-protester at a rally in San Francisco by the group to demand the resignation of the mayor. (via LA Times, Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)