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ICYMI: Immigration Laws Pushing “Exclusion are the Cause of America’s Shame and Regret Throughout Its History”

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Must-Read New York Times Editorial Captures Current Moment in Immigration Debate

In an editorial titled, “The Scrambled States of Immigration,” The New York Times weaves a range of recent developments together into a must-read piece capturing the current moment in the immigration debate.

The editorial concludes by reminding us that “laws and policies that deny rights and push exclusion are the cause of America’s shame and regret throughout its history” and that  “[i]ntegration and assimilation are the core values of a country that is in danger of forgetting itself” – compelling words in light of Republicans’ embrace of the Indiana “religious freedom” law, which would discriminate against LGBT Americans, and their efforts in Texas to roll back the state DREAM Act.

Read the full New York Times editorial below:

“A country that has abandoned all efforts at creating a saner immigration policy has gotten the result it deserves: not one policy but lots of little ones, acting at cross purposes and nullifying one another.  Not unity but cacophony, a national incoherence — one well illustrated this week in a report in The Times on the various ways the states, forsaken by Congress, are adjusting to the presence of millions of unauthorized immigrants living outside the law.

Some, like Washington and California, allow unauthorized immigrants to earn driver’s licenses, having reasonably concluded that roads are safer when drivers are competent and insured.  Other states have decided licenses are a benefit that those living here without permission do not deserve. They are willing to tolerate illegal driving, and more accidents, to make a point about illegal immigration.

Twenty-six states have sued to block President Obama’s executive actions protecting some immigrants from deportation and allowing them to work.  They argue that bringing these immigrants onto the books harms them somehow, though they lack evidence, mainly because the opposite is true.  A federal district judge in Texas has sided with the plaintiffs, blocking the Obama administration’s programs nationwide.

But 14 states and the District of Columbia have pleaded with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to let the programs proceed.  They understand that immigrants who are working legally and paying taxes, supporting themselves and bolstering the economy, are a benefit for all, and that the government is far better off using its limited resources deporting criminals, not family providers.

Some states, notably Arizona and Alabama, have toiled mightily to thwart unauthorized immigrants at every turn, to make them miserable and unemployable.  Others have decided that their undocumented population is an asset to be nurtured, with benefits like more access to higher education, through in-state tuition and financial aid.  They understand the reasoning of Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court decision asserting all children’s right to primary schooling, and have chosen not to squander their costly investment in an educated population.

California is a national leader in embracing the potential of its immigrants, with 26 new laws benefiting the undocumented, including a driver’s license law and one limiting local law-enforcement agencies from participating in the federal immigration dragnet.  New York City, under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of the City Council, has made much progress, too, with programs like a municipal ID card that offers immigrants cultural benefits and the security of having papers.  The message: We want you here.

(New York State should be a national leader in this swelling immigrant-rights movement, but isn’t.  Modest reforms, like a bill to grant college financial aid and scholarships to the undocumented, have languished in its underachieving Legislature, thwarted by a Republican Senate and a governor, Andrew Cuomo, who gives the issue lip service but has other priorities.)

The federal government has its own problems with coherence: As it spends billions to maintain its prison-and-deportation pipeline, even the Homeland Security Department is not on the same page with itself.  The agency is supposed to be using more discretion in whom it deports, but it is applying the policy erratically, if not irrationally.  A man who fits no sane definition of a threat — Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor in Iowa, a husband and father of four citizen children — was recently deported to Honduras.

Meanwhile, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sarah Saldaña, was recently asked at a congressional hearing whether she supported changing the law so that local police departments would be required to hold immigrants in custody for possible deportation beyond the time they would normally be released. ‘Amen,’ she said, showing that she either didn’t know or didn’t accept that the Homeland Security Department actually opposes mandatory detainers.  She later issued a clarification bringing her views in line with those of her boss, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, calling mandatory detainers ‘a highly counterproductive step’ that would ‘lead to more resistance and less cooperation in our overall efforts to promote public safety.’

Depending on how the Fifth Circuit rules on the lawsuit challenging Mr. Obama’s executive actions, his valiant effort to repair some of the damage to the immigration system could well be undone, and everybody, families and felons, may get put back in the shadowy line of potential deportees. Meanwhile, the Army is expanding and fast-tracking a program to give citizenship to unauthorized immigrants with special language or medical skills.

Who is on the right side of this argument — the Army, Mr. Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, Mr. de Blasio?  Or Texas, Alabama, Arizona?  The Republicans whose resistance to reform, in Congress and the states, has left the nation in this mess?  Those die-hard opponents fail to remember that laws and policies that deny rights and push exclusion are the cause of America’s shame and regret throughout its history.  Integration and assimilation are the core values of a country that is in danger of forgetting itself.”