The United States is a nation of immigrants. While immigration laws are necessary, they should be respectful of human rights and never become a tool for hate and discrimination. The U.S. Constitution and numerous acts of Congress provide the federal government with preeminent authority over immigration. Immigration policy has been the exclusive purview of the federal government because it involves the careful balancing of national law enforcement, foreign relations, economic interests, and humanitarian interests. State and local governments have historically left it to the federal government to consider the various objectives of our nation’s immigration laws and to enact legislation to promote national goals.
In recent years, the presence of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, along with the repeated and continuing failure of Congress to enact legislation to fix our country’s outdated and ineffective immigration system, have spurred state and local legislatures to enact their own immigration laws. Our nation has a right and obligation to safeguard its borders and to enact and enforce its immigration laws. Some recent immigration measures at the federal and state levels have been aimed at enhancing the ability of state and local law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend undocumented immigrants. Others have required landlords, employers, health care providers, state and local government employees, and others to take action to report or otherwise penalize undocumented immigrants.
In 2006 and 2007, the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania enacted local ordinances that prohibited hiring and leasing property to undocumented immigrants. In affirming the ruling of the lower court, which struck down these ordinances as unconstitutional, the federal appeals court wrote: “It is of course not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted. We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress.”
In 2010, Arizona enacted SB 1070, a set of laws intended to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens” by making “attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.” Essentially, the purpose of SB 1070, as stated by the Arizona legislature, is to keep undocumented immigrants from coming to Arizona and to drive out those already in the state. SB 1070 requires police to determine immigration status during any lawful stop where there is “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is unlawfully present, and establishes an array of new state criminal sanctions against unlawfully present aliens. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction in the case, prohibiting certain provisions from going into effect. In its injunction, the court concluded that the federal government has broad responsibilities and priorities in terms of immigration enforcement, and SB 1070 would inappropriately interfere with and divert resources from those priorities.
There is widespread concern that rather than making communities more secure, these types of laws will drive a wedge between local law enforcement and the communities they are entrusted to protect. If there is a perception that calling the police may lead to deportation, police may find undocumented persons and their family members hesitant to seek protection, report crimes committed against them, or to serve as witnesses. The police’s ability to keep the community safe could be seriously compromised when law enforcement instead needs to build trust and communication with the immigrant community. As one police chief said, “How do you police a community that will not talk to you?”
Immigrant communities and law enforcement have warned that this makes immigrant communities vulnerable to being the targets of hate crimes. Laws that encourage discrimination in employment, housing, and other services could easily lead to more widespread discrimination and profiling, feed xenophobia, and send an undeniable message to immigrant communities that they are not welcome.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:
- Based on the American and Jewish values to which we strongly adhere, we urge that immigrant rights, worker rights, civil liberties, pluralism, and fair treatment must be essential components of U.S. immigration enforcement.
- S. immigration law and policy must be consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals humanely and with respect.
- The United States must have measures in place to effectively determine who may legitimately enter and remain in the U.S., as well as identify and prevent the entry of those who are dangerous and who pose a risk to our national security. These safeguards should not be made at the expense of civil, worker, and human rights.
- Immigration is a national issue and a federal Federal agencies empowered to implement and oversee our nation’s immigration laws have the sole responsibility for immigration enforcement, and state and local law enforcement agencies are responsible for the enforcement of state and local laws and the keeping of the peace. Federal authorities may seek the assistance of state and local law enforcement in certain defined circumstances. The firewall between federal and state and local law enforcement is essential to preserving the advances made in community policing across the country that have helped to establish trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities and have made our communities safer.
- Recent immigration measures that enhance the ability of state and local law enforcement officials to identify, apprehend, and penalize undocumented immigrants are of concern. Such measures infringe on civil, worker, and human rights and inappropriately delegate to state and local governments the responsibility properly vested with the federal government and may lead to racial profiling.
- States and localities should not enact laws that could lead to discrimination against immigrants. These include laws that would require employers, landlords, and others to report or otherwise penalize those without valid immigration status. Laws that encourage such discrimination are fundamentally at odds with the strong public policies embodied in federal and state anti-hate crimes legislation.
- Close cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant and minority groups is essential to ensuring community safety.
- Immigration enforcement actions in homes and workplaces can cause needless trauma and hardship, separating families and threatening the basic rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. Immigration enforcement actions conducted in homes and workplaces should be narrowly tailored, respect human rights, and be conducted in a manner consistent with due process.
- The use of immigration detention, especially with respect to vulnerable groups and those seeking asylum, should be reduced. Detention conditions should be improved by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel, and legal orientation programs. The government should expedite the release of those who pose no risk to the community and expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention, which are more humane and cost effective.
- The INA 287(g) program, which authorizes the U.S. Department of Homeland security to delegate immigration enforcement authority to state and local law enforcement agencies, has led to widespread misuse of local law enforcement in civil immigration matters, resulted in racial profiling, and has caused substantial harm to the principal of community policing. The INA 287(g) program should be discontinued.
- The history of the anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiment directed at our parents and grandparents puts in stark relief for American Jews how immigration can become a flashpoint for hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric. We are concerned that public frustration with the current failed system has served as a vehicle for racist, nativist and extremist groups to blame immigrants for all of our country’s problems, and that rhetoric that plays on fear is taking hold in parts of the mainstream community and fueling policies and laws that legalize discrimination against immigrants.
- Effective enforcement can only be accomplished as part of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Congress must enact legislation that brings undocumented immigrants currently in the United States out of the shadows by providing a pathway to legal status, creating safe and legal avenues for future flows of immigrants, reuniting families, integrating newcomers into our communities, and establishing border protection and enforcement policies that enhance our national security. By legalizing eligible undocumented immigrants, enforcement resources can be targeted more effectively at those who wish to do us harm.
The Community Relations Field Should:
- Advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and measures which bring undocumented immigrants currently in the United States out of the shadows by providing a pathway to legal status, creating safe and legal avenues for future flows of immigrants, reuniting families, integrating newcomers into our communities, and establishing border protection and enforcement policies that enhance our national security.
- Develop practical recommendations for policy makers, including administrative changes, in the absence of legislative reform.
- Oppose efforts at the federal, state, and local level to empower state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws
- Oppose efforts by state and local jurisdictions to enact legislation that discriminates against immigrants. Speak out against harmful rhetoric and hate speech that scapegoats immigrants and incites hate crimes against immigrants and those who appear to be foreign.
- Seek out opportunities to help build relationships among law enforcement, immigrant communities, business owners, community, labor, and faith leaders to promote understanding of both the complex challenges and the great societal benefits of immigration, and work toward positive solutions that are inclusive and reflect our history as a nation of immigrants.