Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All (Immigration) Politics Are Local

This interesting article from Press of Atlantic City (NJ) underscores many of the important issues that Congress should address as it considers immigration reform legislation.  It is a report from the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference.  The conference brings together local officials who govern New Jersey's many local communities.  New Jersey has been exceptionally welcoming for unauthorized immigrants:

The Governor's Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy, assembled by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2007, released a report in March with more than three dozen policy proposals suggesting how to better integrate New Jersey's tens of thousands of undocumented aliens [sic]. The report drew attention for advocating allowing illegal aliens to drive legally and qualifying their children for in-state tuition rates.

Panel member Ronald Chen, the state's Public Advocate and chairman of
the governor's immigration panel, said Corzine promised him before the election he would create an Office of New Americans by executive order.

That office, in the Public Advocate's office, would help coordinate health and other services, Chen said, implementing the policy suggestions in the report.

Chen said the most successful towns developed relationships between community leaders and municipal employees who spend time in the communities, including police, fire and building department employees Others set up a program to let immigrants know what public services existed.
The report, more controversially, suggested the children of illegal immigrants qualify for in-state tuition rates. Chen said he heard stories of academically gifted children, who couldn't afford college, recruited by gangs. He said, "That was their available opportunity."
These proposals are a far cry from the opportunities and options of immigrants in other states, yet local officials were nevertheless frustrated by their lack of agency and funding to assist immigrants:

Higgins said the bottom line for towns is that they do not decide immigration policy - that's for federal government. Towns handle immigrants. "There are very few resources and little input from the state," she said. "Federal policies fail to take into consideration local concerns."

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