Recent State & Local Immigration Developments (June 2014)
New York City Council Approves Municipal Identification Card Program
On June 26, the New York City Council voted 43-3 to create a municipal identification card for city residents. Starting in early 2015, the new “City ID” card will be available to all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, and will be recognized as proof of identity by all city agencies. New York’s municipal ID program will be the largest in the country and could benefit as many as 500,000 undocumented immigrants in addition to other vulnerable New Yorkers. The cards will empower holders to report crimes to the police, allow them to establish their identity to emergency medical responders, and enhance their access to essential services from opening bank accounts and obtaining loans to renting apartments, filling prescriptions, and picking up children from school. According to Mayor de Blasio, who is expected to sign the bill into law, "the municipal ID is more than just a card—it provides New Yorkers who are currently living in the shadows with dignity and peace of mind.” Similar programs are active in a handful of cities including New Haven, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A recent Center for Popular Democracy report found that municipal ID cards “play a consistently positive role in empowering and protecting vulnerable communities” and result in practical benefits as well as carrying “symbolic importance in creating a sense of shared community and belonging for immigrants and other marginalized individuals.” If you are interested in advocating for municipal IDs in your county or city, please consult CLINIC’s talking points on why such programs are fundamentally fair, make our communities safer, promote community inclusiveness, and further Catholic social teaching as well as a list of ways in which ID cards will enhance individuals’ daily lives.
This month, the New York City Council allocated $4.9 million dollars to fund the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. The program began as a pilot last year in two public defenders’ offices but the increased funding will guarantee that, starting in 2015, all of New York City’s poor detained immigrants have legal representation in their removal proceedings. The federal government does not provide immigrants facing deportation with free court-appointed attorneys, and those who are detained are even less likely to be represented by counsel and, as a result, more likely to be deported. According to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, “New York City will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to have a functioning public defender system for immigrants facing deportation…[and] no family will have a loved one locked up and deported simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.” The project will fund representation for well over 1,300 immigrants, and advocates hope to eventually expand the project to cover all immigrants facing deportation in the state of New York. Proponents believe a state-wide project would save the government millions of dollars by reducing the length of adults’ stay in detention and the costs of foster care and health care for the U.S. citizen children of those deported, as well as savings to employers who have to replace workers who are detained and deported.
First of Its Kind State Citizenship Bill Introduced in New York Legislature
On June 16, days before the New York legislature adjourned for 2014, the New York Is Home Act (SB 7879/ A. 10129) was introduced. The bill would grant “state citizenship” to an estimated 2.7 million non-citizens - both documented and undocumented - who have lived and paid taxes in New York for at least three years. Intended to promote fuller civic, economic, and political participation by immigrants, the bill would confer the right to vote in state and local elections and run for public office in addition to access to state Medicaid coverage, professional licensing, tuition assistance, and driver’s licenses. The responsibilities of state citizenship would include swearing to uphold the state's constitution and laws and committing to serve on a jury. Finally, the bill would limit state and local law enforcement officers’ participation in immigration enforcement by prohibiting them from honoring immigration detainers, restricting ICE’s access to state and local facilities such as courthouses, and limiting information sharing with the Department of Homeland Security without a criminal warrant. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Gustavo Rivera, says the bill is a direct response to the failure of Congress to pass federal immigration reform and he hopes it will start a conversation, both locally and nationally, about what changes can be made at the state level. The bill is expected to be re-introduced in 2015 and may serve as a model for other states seeking to pass pro-immigrant integration measures.
Courts Find Utah and Montana Immigration Enforcement Laws Unconstitutional
On June 20, a federal district court in Montana ruled that provisions of a law requiring state agencies to make immigration status determinations before they could grant certain state services were preempted by federal immigration law. Legislative Referendum No. 21 was approved in 2012 by more than 80% of Montana voters and would have required all Montana residents to prove their citizenship or legal immigration status before they could attend a public university, receive unemployment insurance benefits, obtain a professional license, work for a state agency, or receive services for crime victims or the physically disabled. The law permitted state agencies to determine whether or not a Montana resident was an “illegal alien” (the term used by the law) and required state employees to report unlawfully present non-citizens to the federal government. Since only authorized federal agents are permitted to determine someone’s immigration status, the court found this aspect to be an impermissible state regulation of immigration. While the court upheld the provision permitting state agencies to report an individual’s immigration status to ICE, it is believed that they will not do so since they are not permitted to make immigration status determinations in the first place. This law was initially proposed by the legislature, which subsequently referred it to the state’s voters instead. The Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance attorney who filed the lawsuit hopes that Montana’s legislature and other state legislatures will learn “from this ruling that the state has no business enforcing federal immigration policy and needs to leave these issues to the federal government.”
On June 18, a federal judge in Utah struck down several sections of Utah’s 2011 immigration enforcement law, HB 497. Notably, the court found that federal law preempted the provision allowing warrantless arrests based on the suspicion that someone has violated his or her immigration status as well as the provision making it a state crime to harbor or transport an undocumented individual (including such activities as driving someone to church or to the store). The decision also clarified that people are not required to carry federal documents verifying their immigration status with them at all times. The district court upheld the “show me your papers” provision of Utah’s law that allows police to check the immigration status of those stopped for other lawful reasons. However, it imposed limits on how this section can be enforced. For example, Utah police may not prolong the detention of individuals during traffic stops or other types of stops solely to verify immigration status with federal officials. Provisions similar to those struck down this month by the Utah court have already been halted in other states including Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Indiana. According to an attorney for the plaintiffs, “[this] decision really is the last across the country to issue a stinging rebuke of the anti-immigration agenda.”
Maine Restricts Undocumented Immigrants’ Rights to State Welfare
On June 11, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS") announced a change in who will be eligible for welfare benefits under the state’s General Assistance program that helps low-income residents cover necessary living expenses. Under the previous rules, an applicant was only required to demonstrate need, without verifying his or her immigration status, in order to qualify for the municipally-administered benefits that are jointly funded by state and local taxes. Under the new policy, the state will cease its General Assistance funding for undocumented residents. Maine’s DHHS Commissioner claims the change in policy is required under 8 U.S.C. 1621(a), a federal law that prohibits states from providing certain public benefits to non-citizens without lawful status unless the state has adopted a law affirmatively providing for the provision of such benefits. According to the Commissioner, Maine does not have such a statute. Among opponents to the recent policy change are Maine’s Attorney General who objected to an earlier and broader proposal to deny General Assistance not only to undocumented immigrants but also to those with lawful status including asylum seekers and asylees. According to the Attorney General’s legal opinion, the proposal would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. and state constitutions and requires approval by the Maine legislature. She warned, “You can’t make every town in Maine a mini immigration office.” The recent change in policy may affect an estimated 1,000 Maine residents.
Judge Dismisses DACA Grantees’ Lawsuit Seeking In-State Tuition in Georgia
A superior court judge dismissed the lawsuit brought against the Georgia Board of Regents by 39 DACA grantees last year seeking eligibility for in-state tuition at public universities. According to the board’s policy, non-citizens with “lawful presence” qualify for in-state tuition rates, yet students with DACA have been denied. The plaintiffs argued that this language covers DACA recipients who are recognized as lawfully present by the federal government. According to the court, the case must be dismissed under the concept of sovereign immunity which prevents the state from being sued for “declaratory relief” (a legal term for a judge’s determination of the parties’ legal rights). The DACA students plan to appeal and are also considering filing a new lawsuit in federal court alleging a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. Citizen Challenges Tuition Policy of South Carolina Commission on Higher Education
On June 10, a South Carolina student filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the state Commission on Higher Education’s policy that denies U.S. citizens with undocumented parents eligibility for financial aid and in-state tuition. The plaintiff, a U.S. citizen and long-time South Carolina resident, was denied financial aid and in-state tuition because, as a dependent of undocumented parents who are not considered to be state residents, she is also considered a “non-resident” under the commission’s policy. The lawsuit alleges that the student has been denied equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
New Report Examines States’ Role in Implementing Immigration Reform
The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released a report exploring the critical role that states and localities would play if Congress were to pass immigration reform with a legalization component. Among the state and local governments’ responsibilities in implementing legalization and integrating its beneficiaries are conducting outreach and public education, providing documentation needed to meet the eligibility requirements of the program, offering English language and civics education, and protecting immigrants from fraudulent legal service providers. The report also provides data and a map of the growth and size of the unauthorized immigrant population across the 50 states.
Massachusetts Legislature Declines to Pass Driver’s License Law for Undocumented Residents
On June 23, the Massachusetts legislature voted to send the “Safe Driving Bill” (HR 3285) to study rather than proceeding to approve the legislation. The bill would have made driver's licenses available to undocumented residents by removing the requirement that applicants present a Social Security number. Advocates are committed to reviving the bill during next legislative session. Click here for information about the 11 states that have passed laws permitting undocumented drivers to apply for licenses.
Florida Governor Signs Bills on Tuition Equity and Law Licenses into Law
This month Governor Rick Scott signed into law two pro-immigrant measures passed by the state legislature this session. HB 851 extends eligibility for in-state tuition at public universities and colleges to undocumented residents. Click here to listen to an interview with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops about advocating for passage of the new tuition equity law. Governor Scott also signed HB 755, a bill that will permit DACA recipients who have been in the U.S. for over 10 years to practice law so long as they meet the other requirements for acquiring a law license in the state.
This document was prepared in June 2014 for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. For questions, please contact CLINIC’s State & Local Advocacy Attorney Jen Riddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (301) 565-4807.