America’s states are drifting apart over illegal immigration

As in so many areas:

Congressional dysfunction can cause chaos in America. Look at illegal immigration, where the law strands 10.5m unauthorised migrants in limbo, with little chance of deportation or the legal status that confers the right to work. In the absence of legislation, presidents oscillate wildly. Barack Obama sought to declare almost half of the unauthorised population exempt from deportation and eligible to work. Donald Trump turned the screws the other way, and tried deterring migrants by heartlessly separating parents from children. President Joe Biden is facing dissent from Democrats fearful of Republican attacks if, as planned, he ends a pandemic-response measure called Title 42 on May 23rd. This lets American border police expel asylum-seekers and other migrants on public-health grounds.

America’s federalist system wisely leaves much room to the states to act as laboratories. But state experimentation on immigration has gravitated to the extremes. In some Republican states the aim seems to be cruelty for its own sake. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, has suggested that the Supreme Court should reverse precedent and remove the obligation to educate illegal children, as if that would do anybody any good.

Democratic states, by contrast, have opted to spend money. They are expanding welfare benefits for their illicit residents. New York, which in 2019 began issuing driving licences to residents in the state illegally, set up a $2.1bn fund to provide unemployment benefits and pandemic relief. Three years ago California expanded Medicaid, the government health-insurance programme for the poor, to include young irregular residents. Its governor, Gavin Newsom, wishes to offer the programme to all, regardless of immigration status.

America is an outlier. In Europe and elsewhere access to benefits is limited to citizens or legal immigrants—who often have to wait for several years to be eligible. You would not expect Bavaria to sponsor Syrian migrants that the German interior ministry had turned away, or councils in London to offer housing benefits to adults who are in Britain illegally. It is Congress’s lack of will to deal with illegal immigration in America that explains the urge in California and New York to do something about their permanent shadow-class. Despite vigorous efforts, one-tenth of California’s non-elderly population lacks health insurance. Of that group, the illegal immigrants account for 40%.

Alas, these efforts are likely to be yet another stop-start measure. Because most federal laws ban spending on illegal residents, states must fund the expanded services without federal subsidies. At present, their budgets are swollen by a strong recovery and overgenerous federal funding during the pandemic. In a recession, when budgets are squeezed, such spending is likely to come under political attack. Democrats have long maintained, correctly, that unlawful immigrants by and large work hard and pay taxes, but receive few benefits. That line will be harder to sustain as these programmes grow—to the relish of the nativist right, who will deem their warnings vindicated.

Only Congress can sort out the confusion of half-built border walls, seesawing presidential decrees and contradictory state regimes. Immigration reform, with an orderly path to legal residency for those who pay taxes and do not commit crimes, was once a bipartisan pursuit. It has been forgotten amid the Trumpian takeover of the Republican Party. Some Democratic senators, like Bob Menendez and Catherine Cortez Masto, remain committed to the idea of trading a route to citizenship for stronger border security and faster immigration courts, which today are overwhelmed. The party’s left has turned instead to daydreaming about abolishing America’s immigration authority. The pity is that a labour shortage makes this an especially propitious time for mending the system.

Source: America’s states are drifting apart over illegal immigration

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: