LOCAL COMMUNITIES are taking a do-it-yourself approach, adopting laws to fill the hole Congress left when it failed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The frustration is understandable. But the result is a tangle of contradictions.
"Illegal aliens in our City create an economic burden that threatens our quality of life," Mayor Louis Barletta of Hazleton, Pa., declares on the Small Town Defenders website. "With a growing problem and a limited budget, I could not sit back any longer and allow this to happen. I needed to act! That's why I drafted the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, a measure designed to say enough is enough."
The Hazleton laws called for banning the employment of undocumented immigrants and penalizing landlords who rent to them. Fortunately, a federal court judge struck down these ordinances last week, saying they infringe on the federal government's sole authority to regulate immigration. City officials have said they will appeal.
In Morristown, N.J., Mayor Donald Cresitello is seeking federal permission for the town's police to enforce federal immigration laws, by enrolling officers in a training program created by a 1996 law. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency already has similar partnerships with police and corrections departments in Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, and other states. The risk, however, is that immigrants who fear deportation won't report crimes to local police who have this power. Former Governor Romney had sought to enroll the Massachusetts State Police in the program, but Governor Patrick withdrew from the plan.
Meanwhile, in a move that embraces immigrants, the city of New Haven is issuing identification cards to residents, including undocumented immigrants. The "Elm City Resident Cards" can be used at the library, as ID when dealing with police, and as a debit card for parking meters or to buy items from participating merchants. People can also use the cards to open bank accounts, a step meant to encourage people to use banks instead of carrying money, which could make them more likely to be robbed. More than 1,100 applications have been processed.
All of these actions have sparked angry commentary, including blogs saying New Haven is inviting moochers and mail in Hazleton using slurs and insults to attack Hispanic and brown-skinned people.
Congress can't drain such hostility. But by passing immigration reform, it could chart a national course. With a new law that strengthens borders and creates paths to legalization and a guest worker program, officials could crack down on illegal hiring and review data to address charges that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs from legal residents. Congress, not cities and towns, must act to fill this policy void.