Remember a couple years ago when states decided to take immigration matters into their own hands? Always a leader in human relations, the South took a special pride in trying to pass the harshest laws.
States began passing bills making it illegal to have someone without papers riding in your car or living in your home. It was an eery time when anyone from police officers to grocery clerks were expected to check IDs with immigration status in mind.
At the time, we were living in an Atlanta neighborhood that was almost 30% abandoned. Boarded houses and overgrown properties were common. Business-minded folks interested in opening shop faced the grim reality of a limited customer base.
I remember thinking, "We should be begging immigrants to move here, not scaring them away. Think what it would do for our local economy." Not to mention the statistic that immigrants are twice as likely to open new businesses in a community. It sounded like the infusion of new life our neighborhood could really enjoy.
I'm happy to report that some new states, frustrated with our mind-bogglingly slow Congress, are taking up immigration with an entirely new twist.
New York has been discussing a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants state citizenship. Immigrants without federal legal status would be able to receive driver's licenses, state professional licenses, and state-controlled benefits. Residents would also be eligible for in-state tuition at colleges and universities.
Personally, I think this is brilliant. Take advantage of the talent present in your state. The push and pull factors affecting national immigration are too plentiful and complex to be summed up in campaign-ready statements like "secure the borders," "deport lawbreakers," or even "amnesty."
But the reality is that people exist and are living in our communities. Don't push bright, honest youth into an underground economy that weakens social ties and negatively impacts neighborhoods. It's forward-thinking for states to offer opportunities while we all continue to wait for common sense reform from the federal government.
Bill supporters in New York have admitted this legislation is unlikely to pass on the first go-round. But it is inspiring similar actions in states like Oregon, Maryland, and Illinois.
I'm encouraged to see creativity in this crucial issue that affects scores of families. We need reform, and we need it now. As long as Congress continues to shuffle immigrant families in political games, I hope more states will step up and offer hospitality to its own residents.
Image credit: jvoves