The election of Donald Trump may have heated up discussion about immigration reform, but Congress remained coolly distracted by attempts to repeal Obamacare, tax cuts and the Russia investigation. Their inaction resulted in a dramatic uptick of lawmaking (and lawsuits) on the state and local level in 2017 – a trend which is certain to continue into 2018.
Trump set the tempo in February by signing executive actions to reverse open border policies adopted by the Obama administration and followed up in September with the announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program would be ended.
In response to a stated desire to focus on enforcement of immigration law, state and local officials chose to act on their own in support and in opposition to the administration’s policies.
The year got off to a rapid start in the states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Between January and June, the number of laws enacted by states increased by 90 percent, from 70 enacted in 2016 compared with 133 enacted in the first half of 2017. Along with a spate of new state laws, there was a 22 percent increase in resolutions adopted at the state level. These resolutions reflected a trend of elected officials shaping immigration policy on their own – sometimes in conflict with the federal government’s constitutional authority over immigration law.
While Alaska, Massachusetts and North Carolina stood out as states that took no actions concerning immigration, state and municipal politicians in California and New York aggressively undermined enhanced enforcement and application of the law wherever they could. And they have shown no signs of letting up.
As David Jaroslav notes in a recent post, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is attempting to extend a law prohibiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from entering schools and public hospitals to court buildings. The mayor’s decision to adopt “sanctuary city” policies shielding illegal immigrants earned a warning from Attorney General Jess Sessions in October that the city was at risk of losing federal funds.
When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, California officially will become a sanctuary state after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning state and local law enforcement agencies from using its resources to detain individuals who’ve violated federal immigration law.
In 2018, two more changes to the law will also benefit illegal aliens.
The Immigrant Protection Act prohibits landlords from disclosing a tenant’s immigration status to ICE or to use their status to harass them or threaten eviction.
The second law taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018 will ban employers from consenting to ICE workplace inspections unless they have a warrant, and once one is obtained, the employer is required to provide notice to employees within 72 hours of receiving a federal inspection notification.
Elsewhere, local officials are taking steps to support immigration enforcement. A coalition of attorneys general recently filed suit to ensure a federal executive order banning sanctuary cities is carried out. And, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) introduced legislation that could lead to the jailing of officials who willingly obstruct immigration law enforcement. From coast to coast and from the state house to Capitol Hill, immigration likely will remain an issue of debate and great consequence.