States Take New Tack on Illegal Immigration
[A Florida sheriff uses a way] around rules allowing only the federal government to enforce immigration laws [, arresting illegal immigrants for violations of state identity theft laws for using stolen Social Security numbers].
His approach is increasingly common. Last month, 260 illegal immigrants in Iowa were sentenced to five months in prison for violations of federal identity theft laws.
At the same time, in the last year, local police departments from coast to coast have rounded up hundreds of immigrants for nonviolent, often minor, crimes, like fishing without a license in Georgia, with the end result being deportation.
In some cases, the police received training and a measure of jurisdiction from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under a program that lets officers investigate and detain people they suspect to be illegal immigrants.
But with local demand for tougher immigration enforcement growing, 95 departments are waiting to join the 47 in the program. And in a number of places, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, police officers or entire departments are choosing to tackle the issue on their own.
State lawmakers, in response to Congressional inaction on immigration law, are giving local authorities a wider berth. In 2007, 1,562 bills related to illegal immigration were introduced nationwide and 240 were enacted in 46 states, triple the number that passed in 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A new law in Mississippi makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to hold a job. In Oklahoma, sheltering or transporting illegal immigrants is also a felony.
It remains unclear how the new laws will be enforced. Yet at the very least, say both advocates and critics, they are likely to lead to more of what occurred here: more local police officers demanding immigrants’ documents; more arrests for identity theft; more accusations of racial profiling; and more movement of immigrants, with some fleeing and others being sent to jail.