Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pressing national debate over immigration

Two western states, two very different immigration policies. A prominent sanctuary city, San Francisco’s welcomes immigrants with open arms regardless of their official legal status. Arizona, on the other hand, has drawn intense public scrutiny for its bold stance against illegal immigration. These two cities represent opposite extremes in the polarizing national debate over illegal immigration.
The total estimated number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. dropped in 2010, but the number remains high. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 10.8 million illegal immigrants currently live in the U.S (click here for the report). Nationally, the combined annual cost burden created by illegal immigration at the federal, state, and local level amounts to roughly $113 billion, and education represents the largest share of that cost.
Most observers agree that illegal immigration is a pressing policy problem. They disagree, however, on the proper solution for the situation. San Francisco exemplifies the kind of sanctuary cities that some Texas lawmakers are currently working to avoid. According to the San Francisco Examiner:

“San Francisco enacted a sanctuary policy in 1989 that aims to foster an environment in which undocumented immigrants feel safe enough to engage with law enforcement officials and local government without fear of deportation. The policy bars city employees from using any funds or resources to assist in federal enforcement of immigration law, but there are exceptions.”

Pro-immigration activists applaud San Francisco’s “openness,” but the policy is criticized by pro-immigration law activists who say it subverts federal laws and sustains the problem. Even the debate within San Francisco has escalated recently. San Francisco’s are wrestling with the question of how to handle juvenile illegal immigrants who are accused of felonies. Previously, these juveniles were not reported to immigration authorities. However, as violent crimes committed by juvenile immigrants are gaining attention, San Francisco’s authorities are feeling pressured to enact stricter, less immigrant-friendly standards
Conversely, Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer has pioneered tough, pro-immigration law reforms. In 2010, she signed into law a bill designed to identify and prosecute illegal immigrants. The law empowered Arizona law enforcement officers the authority to detain suspected illegal immigrants. Pro- immigration activists responded immediately and vocally. Demonstrators gathered in the state’s capital and President Obama instantly expressed his opposition. Mexican authorities even became involved by questioning the state of Mexican-Arizona relations. Supporters say that Arizona has mustered up the courage to face a major crisis head on.

Below: Gov. Brewer discusses a meeting with President Obama over immigration.

Despite the political division and high costs associated with tackling sensitive issues like sanctuary cities, one thing is certain; the problem will have to be addressed eventually. For states like California and Texas – states with significant budget crises and high illegal immigrant populations – the time to find viable compromises on sanctuary cities and illegal immigration is rapidly looming.

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