Immigration Reform 2013: Why California Has the Right Answer

With Congress focused on the fake government shutdown, it seems unlikely that we will see immigration reform occur at the federal level this year. 2014 will see the House of Representatives running for re-election — hardly the time for bipartisan work to be done. This means that if immigration reform doesn't pass at the federal level in the next few weeks it will probably not be brought up until 2015 at the earliest. This doesn't mean that immigration reform is completely doomed across the country, though.

The states, California in particular, have made significant progress on providing relief for the estimated 12 million illegal aliens residing in the United States. California has passed the TRUST Act, which decreases the level of cooperation between state and federal authorities on deporting non-violent lawbreakers. This means that illegal immigrants will no longer have to worry about being deported for traffic violations or other minor infractions. California has also passed legislation that will grant driver licenses to its illegal-immigrant population. The state already grants in-state tuition and state aid for DREAMers, or illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

Some conservative pundits have remarked that all of this has made illegal immigrants effectively legal in California. I believe these pundits to be correct, but unlike them I don't think this is an insult to California. To the contrary, California should be proud of its state-level immigration reforms. Isn't turning illegal immigrants into legal ones the goal, after all?

There are some who fantasize about "simply enforcing the current laws," but I don't believe many people realize the full implications of such actions. I won't say that massive population transfers aren't possible. It is certainly possible to move millions of people against their will if one is willing to repeat the atrocities of our ancestors. Perhaps advocates for mass transfers assume an apology in the distant future will be enough to justify their current desires?

Illegal immigrants are, unless one is willing to get their hands dirty, here to stay. The best course of action then is to regularize the status of those currently here and reform the migration system to encourage future migrants to come here through legal channels. In this regard other states, and the federal government, should follow California's example.

Mind you, California isn't alone in expanding rights and privileges to its illegal population. Even Republican-dominated states like North Carolina have recognized the need to regularize its population. Earlier this year its legislature overcame a veto by the state governor to pass the RECLAIM Act, which among other things grants illegal immigrants drivers licenses and gives greater discretion to some employers to check the legal status of their employees. 

Aside from introducing reforms similar to the TRUST Act and granting driver licenses, states would do well to consider something along the lines of AB 1544, a proposed California assembly bill. AB 1544 would have granted legal status at the state level to illegal immigrants, and would have allowed them to better integrate themselves in the labor market.

In its own way, wouldn't giving greater discretion to the individual states be the best way to address the illegal immigration problem? Why should Californians have to suffer from a closed-borders policy because of Arizona's preferences? Likewise, why should Arizona suffer from an open-borders policy because of California's preferences? 

Some might object that it is unrealistic to decentralize immigration policy — but is it really? The European Union's member states each have independent immigration policies. Some allow immigrants to quickly gain citizenship and others are more restrictionist. Despite this they have managed to allow the free movement of labor within their borders. Are not the American states just as equally capable of deciding for themselves what immigration policies they wish to pursue? 

Regardless of what action occurs, it is clear that we should stop looking towards the federal government to solve the immigration crisis in the union. The states, California in particular, seem to have a better understanding of what should be done.