The New Immigration Federalism

  • October 22, 2015
    BookTalk
    The New Immigration Federalism
    By: 
    Pratheepan Gulasekaram and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan

    by Pratheepan Gulasekaram and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan. Gulasekaram is an Associate Professor of Law at Santa Clara Law, and Ramakrishnan is a Professor of Public Policy and Political Science and Association Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.

    The years after 9/11 have witnessed a period of great ferment and transformation with respect to immigration and federalism. This era, characterized by an extended federal legislative gridlock on immigration, has been one of unprecedented levels of state and local policymaking on the subject. The past several years have witnessed a flurry of restrictionist policies, like Arizona’s SB 1070 and its copycats, employer verification statutes, and local agreements with the federal government to help enforce immigration laws. On the integrationist side, states and localities have implemented policies to resist their complicity in federal immigration enforcement, provide education benefits, and allow access to a variety of social services.

    What are the causes of this development, in terms of background factors and more proximate causes? And, what are the consequences of these new developments in immigration federalism, particularly with respect to our understanding of the role of states and localities in our constitutional order? Using empirical data and a multi-disciplinary approach, our book answers these central questions and provides several key insights for the future development of state and local policy and federal immigration reform.

    We first situate the current flurry of subfederal legislation in the larger historical context of immigration federalism in the United States, showing how Congress and the Supreme Court have played key roles in particular historical moments, to either permit or limit state involvement in regulating immigration. Indeed, we make the case that this contemporary period represents an emerging phase in the still-evolving “third era” of immigration federalism that began in 1965, an era that is distinct from the first century of immigration law that was state-centric, and the second century of immigration law where the federal government became dominant. In the past fifty years, Congress waded explicitly into defining what states can do with respect to regulating the welfare and livelihood of immigrants, and states attempted significant controls over the undocumented population. We end our historical overview with the period immediately preceding September 11, 2001, discussing in detail California’s Proposition 187 in 1994, the predecessor to the several state and local restrictive efforts that dominated headlines over the past ten years.

    Having provided this context, we then explain the various types of laws that states and localities have passed during this new period of immigration federalism. In Chapter 3, we provide a description and classification of key types of restrictionist laws at the state and local level that were dominant from 2004 through 2012, such as enforcement laws, employer sanctions provisions, and rental ordinances aimed at undocumented immigrants. We then examine the causes for this spike in restrictionist legislation, and ask why it was occurring in some places but not in others. Using original empirical analysis, we reject the conventional narrative about these restrictionist laws, which popularly held that a combination of demographic pressures from new patterns of unauthorized migration, combined with federal inaction, created irresistible pressure for states and localities to act. Our empirical analysis not only refutes this generally-accepted (but mistaken) explanation, but in doing so reveals the most salient factor explaining the proliferation of restrictionist laws across selected jurisdictions:  political partisanship.  Put simply, we show that demography is not destiny, but politics may be.