As Feds Drag Heels on Immigration Reform, States Like Colorado Make Strides

The news broke last week that President Obama is likely to take executive action on immigration reform before the end of the year, with some saying an announcement could come as soon as November 21.

Republican lawmakers have repeatedly vowed that unilateral immigration action by Obama would bring grave political consequences, but often lost in the debate is the GOP-controlled House’s refusal to take up a sweeping bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last June.

Congressional inaction on the issue is nothing new. Legislative immigration overhauls failed to pass Congress in 2006, 2007 and 2013. In fact, there has been no major immigrant legalization since the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2001 and even the DREAM Act, which would provide certain immigrant students who grew up in the U.S. with a path to citizenship, has stalled in Congress.

Yet where federal lawmakers have failed to reform glaring gaps in the immigration system, many states have stepped up and passed laws of their own that grant immigrants greater rights, from obtaining drivers licenses to in-state tuition rates to workplace discrimination protection and more.

Congressional Action Would Obviate Need for Executive Action

Despite leaked reports describing Obama’s plan to offer some kind of immigration reform to several million unauthorized immigrants—reports that have amounted to declarations of war to House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans—it appears that Obama and Democratic lawmakers aren’t yet ready to give up on passing a bipartisan immigration bill.

Speaking from Australia at the G20 summit on Sunday, Mr. Obama urged Congress to pass a bill that would address border security, overhaul the immigration system and legalize a good portion of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“Give me a bill that addresses those issues,” he said. “I’ll be the first one to sign it and, metaphorically, I’ll crumple up whatever executive actions that we take and we’ll toss them in the wastebasket.”

Senate Democrats this week echoed the President’s sentiments, saying that House passage of the Senate’s bill would halt Obama’s controversial executive action that, according to some estimates, would shield as many as 7 million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.

Colorado, Other States Move Ahead With Immigrant Integration

With frustration and gridlock at the federal level, states are taking matters into their own hands. Colorado is the 10th state to pass a law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and IDs. The law in Colorado went into effect August 1, 2014. Colorado last year passed the ASSET law, which permits undocumented persons who reside in Colorado to benefit from in-state tuition. In addition, Colorado authorities don’t call federal authorities when they arrest an undocumented immigrant—something that states were asked to do by the feds post-9/11.  These may be small steps towards comprehensive immigration overhaul, but they add up to a big difference for millions of immigrants who have been living in fear and unable to obtain benefits available to other Americans.

Humberto Cruz Salas, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico but has lived in Colorado since age 3, recently obtained a driver’s license and now lives in considerably less fear of being arrested and sent back to Mexico.

“I drive around a lot safer now. I’m not constantly paranoid,” Cruz Salas told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an article that was translated into English and published by Yahoo! News. “There’s still that fear that there’s a cop behind you, but it’s not the same because you know you have a license with you.”

“We came from so far away,” Denver immigration lawyer Catherine Brown told AFP, but there is still much more to do.  “In the past few years, the fear of being deported has been reduced,” she said, but, “it’s never over.”

To discuss any changing immigration laws or issues with Boulder attorney Catherine Brown, please contact her office to schedule a consultation.

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