Friday, May 30, 2008

Educational Forum on Immigration Update

The Educational Forum on Immigration which took place on Tulane's campus yesterday evening was very successful on all fronts. We had an audience numbering, I'd guess, in the 80-100 person range. All of our six panelists were present and each provided great commentary.

We even had a special, last minute guest who spoke to us for about 5 minutes. That person was Fernando Chavez, Cesar Chavez's son. He spoke simply but powerfully and inspired all who were present to engage civically on matters of importance like these immigration bills.

Some of the things I learned that I didn't know previously:

(1) In other states, legislation similar to the ones proposed here in Louisiana has been subject to court challenges and in almost all instances, the courts have ruled against such legislation on the basis of jurisdication. Apparently, even though the motivation for state legislators to propose such bills is understandable in the wake of seeming federal incompetence or unwillingness to enforce immigration laws, the courts are clear that immigration law is the purview of the federal government and not of local/state governments. Judicial precedent is clear on these points. So, the upshot is that this legislation, if passed and signed into law by the Governor, will more than likely be declared unconstitutional and will result in large expenses incurred by the state taxpayer to defend such laws.
(2) State legislation dealing with immigration matters has historically served as a test case for exploring new ideas about immigration enforcement and legislation that often then filters up into the federal legislature. In other words, though immigraiton law produced at the state level is not likely to pass constituional muster on jurisdictional grounds, it is important because it has a definitive influence on how the federal legislature will address the subject. And any federal legislation based on state-level experiments will pass constitutional muster on jurisdictional grounds.
(3) It is relatively common practice in the Louisiana legislature, given the volume of bills produced in such a short amount of time, that legislators may only have between 30 and 60 minutes to review legislation before it comes up for debate and a vote on the floors of Congress. This is a procedural problem that often times allows bad legislation to be approved simply because legislators then vote on the basis of collegial deference as an expression of good will or on the basis of personal relationships between legislators (whether good or bad) that are unrelated to the actual content of the legislation itself.
(4) Across the country, situations like what is happening in Louisiana only tend to surface where two conditions are met: (a) a rapid and abrupt demographic change involving a sudden influx of immigrants and (b) a corresponding intensity regarding the subject at the national level. In other words, in communities where immigrant workers are much more reflective of the history of a place, there is less of a likelihood to have anti-illegal immigrant legislation. Additionally, if there is not a heightened attention to the issue at the national level, even rapic and abrupt demograpic changes in communities involving a marked increase in immigrant worker populations are not likely to cause much concern. Most people in such circumstances are likely either to not notice or pay closer attention to the changing demographics of their communities, or, if they do notice it, are less likely to think of it as problematic. In Louisiana, we had a massive, rapid, and abrupt influx of immigrant workers in the immediate post-Katrina rebuilding context at the same time that the subject what receiving heated attention at the national level. Thus the current wave of recent legislation in the State Congress regarding immigration.
(5) Most local and state law enforcement agencies oppose any legislation that requires them to serve as immigration agents in the conduct of their policing jobs. It tends to impede their abilities to tackle crime, since much goes unreported, and it damages trust between communities and local law enforcement.

These are just some of the things I learned last night. And I consider myself to be pretty well-informed already on the subject.

The presentations were by and large respectful and informational. The Q&A session following the presentations was also handled well and didn't witness too much contentiousness. There was a little bit of grandstanding and some commens from the audience that tended more towards an activist orientation; but this was by far the exception rather than the rule.

Lucas Diaz was simply great as the panel and Q&A moderator. He was balanced and thoughtful.

Many thanks to the panelists and to all the sponsoring organizations for putting on a wonderful event.


Eric said...

Huck, sounds like a very interesting forum. Was there much talk about whether or not these types of laws are generally succesful in acheiving their goals when passed? Our state legislators have been patting themselves on the back for the last 6 months in regards to the number of illegal immigrants who left the state immediately after our immigration laws were passed last year (granted, they weren't exactly the same laws that they are pushing in Louisiana). I was just wondering if this was brought up in the forum, and if other states have had similar results.

Also, I know the Oklahoma immigration laws have been challenged in state and federal courts by The National Coalition of Latino Clergy, and the cases were dismissed (if I remember correctly, the federal judge basically said that the best remedy for illegal aliens is to comply with federal law and leave the country). Other groups have filed cases that are still pending.
I'd be interested to know what states have tried to pass similar laws and had their attempts blocked by the federal courts.

Interesitngly, I heard on a radio station today that the state representative who authored our immigration bill is now working on new legilsation to challenge birthright citizenship. Basically the state would refuse to issue birth certificates to the offspring of people who are not legally present in the U.S. Instead, the state would allow hosptials to issue non-state-sanctioned "acknowledgement of birth" papers to help facilitate a birth certificate in the country of origin.

The bill is only in its infancy right now... they said it is "being explored at this point but not pursued". But state lawmakers hit political paydirt with last years immigration laws, so I bet this idea will eventually take wing. Will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Huck said...

Eric - Thanks for the comments. Yes, there was discussion about the questions you raise and some reference to outcomes, effectiveness, and litigation results. One of the interesting points that one of our academic panelists brought up and relates to your question about outcomes is that a general pattern with legislation such as this is that it often times comes up on the tail end of immigration waves. In part, this is a product of how long it takes to work on such legislation and get it to the point where it can be considered by state legislatures; but when there are large and rapid demographic shifts predicated upon a surge in job opportunities (i.e. in Louisiana, it was reconstruction work in the post-Katrina and post-Rita environment), the ebb and flow of migrant workers is also very fluid and unstable. Byt the time legislation emerges, usually the labor market has become saturated, jobs begin to taper off, and migrant workers, who are very transient by nature, tend to leave for greener pastures elsewhere. So, in the case of Louisiana, demographic data was already showing an outmigration of migrant day laborers from their peak numbers of about a year ago. I don't know if this is true in the case of Oklahoma, but the effect here in Louisiana is that the rise of this legislation is already corresponding to a natural, market-driven decrease in the migrant population. So the tendency could be to attribute this gradual exodus to these bills when the evidence isn't clear on this point. As the panelist said, it's akin to closing the door to migrants as they are already on their way out. And this panelist says that there is evidence from other regions (though not all) that seem to indicate this. I found that point interesting.

Another interesting point that was brought up concerning how challenges to these bills fare in the courts. Although there have been a number of high profile cases such as Hazelton, PA, and, more recently, Farmers Branch, TX, as evidence of what our immigration attorney panelist referred to as "pre-emption," that declares state legislation unconstitutional regarding immigration on the basis of crafting and enforcing immigration law as a federal responsibility, much depends on the procilivities of appellate courts. For instance, the point was raised that the US Fifth Circuit court of appeals tends to be more conservative and hence more likely to favorably interpret the constitutionality of these bills currently working their way through the Louisiana legislature. The upshot, as I understood it, is that the likelihood of state legislation getting through court challenges depends on the orientations of the local and district courts. So, while the Hazelton, PA, and the Farmers Branch, TX, cases resulted in decisions that declared state legislation unconstitutional, this doesn't mean that other state legislation (i.e. in your state of Oklahoman) might fare better in courts where there may be more sympathy towards the arguments in their defense. I also found that interesting, too. What it really means for people like me who oppose this kind of legislation is that we simply cannot depend on courts to use "pre-emption" as a guarantee that this legislation will be declared unconstitutional. Thus, we need to try to prevent such legislative initiatives from making it out of the state legislature to begin with. For, once it gets into the relevant courts here, it is less likely to be struck down.

Also, the point I previously mentioned in my posting still applies. The success of such legislation in your state of Oklahoma is providing some important examples and precedents for federal legislators who will undoubtedly incorporate some of these ideas into federal immigration legislation when Congress takes up the subject again.