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September 16, 2007

Division and Dislocation: Regulating Immigration through Local Housing Ordinances

News Release, September 13, 2007;
by Jill Esbenshade, Ph.D., American Immigration Law Foundation

The last two years have seen an intensified public debate over the issue of undocumented immigrants in the United States. However, Congress and the White House have repeatedly failed to enact immigration reform legislation that might effectively address the problem of undocumented immigration. This inaction by the federal government has led to heightened frustration at the local level. One way in which some policymakers and activists have expressed this frustration is through support for ordinances that target undocumented immigrants. As of March 10, 2007, such ordinances had been proposed, debated, or adopted in at least 104 cities and counties in 28 states. These ordinances encompass a number of measures—most notably prohibitions on renting to or employing undocumented immigrants and the adoption of English as the official language of the local government. Forty-three of the 104 localities have debated or passed rental restrictions alone or as part of broader ordinances.

According to the judges who so far have heard cases involving the ordinances, a local ordinance that regulates immigration or otherwise conflicts with federal immigration law is unconstitutional. Regulating immigration has long been within the exclusive purview of the federal government. The ordinances also have been found to deny "due process" rights to renters and landlords. Local ordinances that target undocumented immigrants needlessly foster anti-immigrant and anti-Latino discrimination, divide communities, and undermine the economic prosperity of the locales that adopt them. Most cities and counties already have the ability to deal with problems such as crime and overcrowding through existing laws. Rather than championing anti-immigrant ordinances that claim to deal with these problems without actually doing so, local policymakers would be well advised to focus their energies instead on addressing the concerns of their residents that actually fall within the range of local power.

Among the findings of this report:

Over 40 percent of the households targeted by the ordinances include children and almost one-third include U.S.-citizen children. Roughly 4.9 million children in the United States live in households headed by undocumented immigrants. About 3.1 million of these children are U.S.-born citizens.

Ordinance initiatives are not correlated with the size of a locality's foreign-born or Latino population, but with a rapid increase in the foreign-born or Latino share of the population, especially since 2000. The increase, rather than the number itself, is shaping popular perceptions of an immigration "crisis."

In 2000, only 20.2 percent of localities with ordinance initiatives had Latino population shares over the national average of 12.5 percent. Only 16.3 percent had foreign-born population shares above the national average of 11.1 percent. More recent data for 28 larger cities and counties show that only 35.7 percent had either Latino or foreign-born population shares above the national average.

In most localities, a significant amount of the increase in the Latino population appears to consist of native-born citizens moving from one part of the country to another, as well as children born to Latinos already living in the locale. Between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population share of the average ordinance locality increased in size by 4.1 percent, while the foreign-born share grew by 2.8 percent. Similarly, among the 28 largest ordinance localities, the Latino share of the population rose by 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2005, while the foreign-born population increased by only 2.1 percent.

Ordinances are not correlated with high local unemployment rates. Around two-thirds of ordinance locales (68 percent) had unemployment rates at or below the national average in 2000, as did 64 percent of the 25 largest localities in 2005 for which unemployment data was available.

Implementation of the housing ordinances relies on the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database. According to several reports by federal and state agencies, SAVE has problems with accuracy and timeliness and cannot currently be expanded to meet new demand.

Read the entire report here at; http://www.ailf.org/ipc/special_report/sr_sept07.shtml

For more information contact Tim Vettel (at 202-742-5608 or tvettel@ailf.org.

Posted by VisaLawyer at September 16, 2007 06:38 AM

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