Anti-immigrant movement zeroes in on state-level strategies

Imagine 2050 Staff • May 05, 2014

As immigration reform legislation continues to be obstructed at the federal level, many states and municipalities are making themselves more immigrant-friendly. Predictably, the organized anti-immigrant movement is looking to stem the rising tide of pro-immigrant policies across the county.

Indicating that the anti-immigrant movement is acknowledging this, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently hired Jesse Tyler as an additional “state and local associate.” According to FAIR’s website, Tyler will assist work with existing FAIR initiatives and “is responsible for advancing FAIR’s state and local legislative priorities by assisting state and local legislators to draft constitutionally sound legislation and developing strategies to advance such legislation.”

A focus on state and local level policy has long been a part of FAIR’s efforts, and the organization’s work – along with its legal affiliate, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) – has generated notorious anti-immigrant laws including Arizona’s SB 1070.

The addition of Tyler evidences that FAIR has no intention of decreasing its involvement at the state level anytime soon. Prior to joining FAIR, Tyler worked for U.S. English and advocated for “Official English” legislation in states across the country. U.S. English was co-founded by white nationalist and FAIR founder John Tanton. He left the organizations in 1998 after a racially charged memo he wrote was made public. The anti-immigrant movement has had success passing such “Official English” legislation previously and it is certainly plausible for Tyler to continue advocating these policies and use them as a tool to expand FAIR’s presence and influence at the state and local level.

The efforts of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — criss-crossing the country to defend nativist legislation he authored in courts — perhaps best exemplifies the anti-immigrant movement’s presence at the state and local level. With the diminishing public presence of FAIR-affiliated State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), it appears Kobach will continue to be the public face of these efforts. However, work is certainly occurring behind the scenes to expand the prevalence of anti-immigrant policies.

While the work is being done, though, immigrant rights advocates are making great strides.

Beginning last week, undocumented immigrants in Washington, D.C., have been able to apply for drivers licenses. Also in the last month, nine county sheriffs in Oregon announced they would not honor ICE detainer requests. Mayor Michael Nutter similarly announced immigrants would not be held without a warrant in Philadelphia recently.

More recently on Friday, the Florida state legislature sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott granting undocumented immigrants access to in-state college tuition rates. FAIR produced a cost-estimate and worked with local activists to mobilize opposition to the legislation. The efforts failed, and Gov. Scott is expected to sign the bill soon.

Now a new generation of Floridians will have easier access to higher education. Perhaps some will study to become lawyers — eventually working in courthouses to challenge future pieces of anti-immigrant legislation.


Image source: Antonio Villaraigosa/Creative Commons

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