States rush immigration bills

Hundreds of anti-illegal immigration laws in works, but few likely to stick

The Associated PressMarch 8, 2008 

  • The United States has failed to uphold its international obligations to protect the human rights of migrants, subjecting too many to prolonged detention in substandard facilities while depriving them of an adequate appeals process and labor protections, a United Nations investigator said Friday.

    In the international body's first scrutiny of U.S. treatment of its 37.5 million noncitizen migrants, U.N. investigator Jorge Bustamante took particular aim at what he criticized as the "overuse" of detention for immigrants. Noting that the annual detainee population has tripled in nine years to 230,000, he called on the United States to eliminate mandatory detention for certain migrants and instead expand the use of alternatives, such as electronic ankle bracelets.

    Bustamante also urged that migrants be given the right to legal counsel, more impartial hearings and improved holding facilities, particularly for women and children.

    "The United States lacks a clear, consistent, long-term strategy to improve respect for the human rights of migrants," his report said. It was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday. Bustamante serves as the body's special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

    In a statement to the council, the U.S. delegation called the report disappointing.

    The report "focuses only on a narrow slice of the migrant population in the United States and makes no effort to recognize notable, positive aspects of U.S. migration policy," the statement said. "This results in an incomplete and biased picture of the human rights of migrants. ..."


State lawmakers around the country are proposing hundreds of bills this year aimed at curbing illegal immigration, but experts say the cost and public opposition will keep many from becoming law.

Lawmakers in eight states are now sponsoring legislation similar to the nation's most comprehensive anti-immigration law, passed by Oklahoma in May.

It restricts illegal immigrants' access to driver's licenses and other IDs, limits public benefits, penalizes employers who hire them and boosts ties between local police and federal immigration authorities.

The bills are among more than 350 immigration-related proposals introduced in state legislatures in the first two months of this year, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Sharma Hammond, staff attorney for the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, thinks states have been galvanized by the collapse two years running of a congressional solution.

"They feel like they have to take it into their own hands because the federal government is doing nothing," said Hammond, whose group helps states write the comprehensive bills and favors a freeze on nearly all immigration.

It's questionable how many of the bills will become law. Many quickly lose momentum after they're introduced.

Out of more than 100 bills dealing with illegal immigration in Virginia, only a few minor ones were likely to pass as the session was scheduled to end today.

In Florida, lawmakers have proposed nearly a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration since January. But at a recent news conference at the state capitol, only two of the bills' backers showed. None of the state House leadership has offered support.

"People are still trying to keep this alive and get the federal government to pass something," said Ann Morse of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks the bills. "But now that the legislation is introduced, states are wondering is this something we need to do right now, or do we need to study it more."

Morse thinks the new comprehensive bills are partly a tool to draw public attention to the issue, especially in an election year.

Last year, more than 1,500 anti-illegal immigrant laws were proposed, with nearly 250 passing, according to a count by the National Conference of State Legislatures. And some of that legislation is now creating legal and financial trouble for states.

The Oklahoma law still faces a legal challenge by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In Colorado, a proposal to boost the state's immigration enforcement unit may be doomed by its $3.9 million price tag.

Although the University of Arizona saved roughly $70,000 last year by identifying illegal immigrants who are ineligible for in-state tuition under a new law, the startup cost of the program was more than double that. The school estimates the cost of identifying such students will be equal to if not greater than the savings.

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