2012 Symposium – Day One: In Brief

Are State Laws Restricting Immigrants’ Civil Rights? Self-Deportation and the Fight Against the DREAM Act

Michael A. Olivas, University of Houston: Dreams Deferred: Deferred Action, Discretion, and the Vexing Case(s) of DREAM Act Students

Professor Olivas shared his concern for undocumented, post-secondary students that remain unprotected after the rejection of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Prosecutorial discretion and deferred action are not an adequate replacement, as they leave these students in a situation likened to that of parole. Of particular concern, he notes, are those students encouraged to “out” themselves in an effort to draw attention to the issue, often risking deportation. Professor Olivas observed that if a bipartisan effort cannot be sustained to protect such a sympathetic group, hope for comprehensive immigration reform may be mislead. We are left, he concluded, with a restrictionist movement that believes the current immigration plan to be far more lax than it really is, a lack of agreement from either side on what the metrics of comprehensive reform should be, and undocumented students that remain largely unprotected.

Kevin Johnson, UC Davis, The “New” Civil Rights: Is the “New” Birmingham Like the “Old” Birmingham?

Dean Johnson drew comparisons between the 1964 Civil Rights Movement and the current immigration debate. Today, he focused on Alabama law HB 56 and its controls on access to education for undocumented families. Section 28 requires primary and secondary schools to determine if enrolling students and their parents are undocumented and to report this data to the state. The information collected may be used to challenge Plyler v. Doe‘s prohibition on the exclusion of undocumented children from elementary and secondary schools. Section 8, however, wholly bars undocumented students from entering public colleges and universities, an action similar to those seen in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Dean Johnson expressed his opinion that such state actions will continue until comprehensive federal reform or a clear Supreme Court ruling address the issue. In the meantime, he moved for language and discussions that humanize the real people affected by these laws.

Non-Federal Immigration Enforcment

Jennifer Chacón, UC Irvine, The New Immigration Federalism

Professor Chacón addressed the limits and lessons of the ongoing preemption battle in the courts. She noted the movement from the historical presumption of federal supremacy in immigration law towards the creation of space for sub-federal action. She began with descriptions of three major tests to federal immigration law: Arizona’s employer sanctions law, the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA); the local employment and housing ordinances of Hazleton, PA and Farmers Branch, TX; and Arizona’s SB1070. Professor Chacón highlighted a number of themes including the tolerance for legislation where Congress has crafted explicit exemptions, the rejection of provisions that may infringe upon federal immigration enforcement, the use of the state police power to justify criminal ordinances concerning the movement of undocumented workers, and the courts’ sympathy for the state frustrations with insufficient federal enforcement.

Stephen Lee, UC Irvine, Police, Employers, Immigrants, and Work

Professor Lee delved into the complicated relationship among law enforcement officers, employers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He drew attention to the trend of local police regulating labor disputes between employers and their undocumented employees. While the federal government has empowered employers to screen their workers with the use of such tools as the I-9 form, the administration also has constrained employers’ access to ICE officials to prevent the use of documentation information for promoting personal interests. At the same time, local police have formed stronger connections with immigration enforcement, almost acting as junior agents. This effort, in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness, comes with the risk of employers using local law enforcement to ultimately reach ICE. It will be important to determine what factors influence or affect police decisions in immigration enforcement. Professor Lee left the symposium participants with a reflection on the social value of work when so much of the public identity is based on what we, as individuals, do.

Continue to Day Two →