March 15, 2010

Ithaca Urges Congress to Pass Immigration Reform

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The City of Ithaca Common Council this month addressed the nationally contentious issue of immigration by unanimously passing a resolution on March 3 that calls on Congress to replace the enforcement-only policy, cease raids and provide a pathway for legal citizenship.

Alderpersons Eric Rosario (I-2nd Ward) and Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) introduced the bill after working for months in conjunction with the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, Catholic Charities Immigrant Center and Tompkins County Workers Center.

The resolution condemns the current laws, stating that “our nation’s immigration system continues to be broken, with the federal government pursuing an ineffective enforcement-only strategy that attempts to make the nation’s antiquated immigration laws fit current realities.”

“Ithaca is quite progressive, so the City of Ithaca, at least theoretically, is a safe-haven for immigrants, but it is quite different in some of the outlying counties,” Ute Ritz-Deutch of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition said. In 2007, Ithaca supported moratoriums on raids and deportations, unless conducted by federal law enforcement officials. Local police are prohibited from investigating people for the sole purpose of checking immigration status.

In upstate New York there are an estimated 65,000 undocumented farm workers, and Ithaca has the highest proportion of non-US citizens — more than Syracuse and Rochester, according to Ritz-Deutch.

“What was so powerful about it is that a lot of people in our local government have either family members or people that they know that have undocumented status. A lot of people are really personally affected by this,” she said. The resolution notes that one in ten people over the age of 18 in Ithaca is a non-US resident, based on the 2000 census.

According to the resolution, addressing an issue that “engenders an atmosphere of divisiveness and mistrust” discourages the reporting of crimes because of “well-founded fears of immigration enforcement action against them, thereby putting entire communities at risk and undermining public safety for all.”

The resolution also cites two influential think-tank reports from the Center for American Progress and the Cato Institute on the economic impact of immigration laws, stating that instead of the negative impact expected based on increased job competition, the economy would be stimulated by increased wages and tax revenues.

Rosario addressed his constituents’ concerns about these economic impacts.

“Our Congressional representatives are facing pressure from constituents who believe that creating a pathway for legal status and naturalization for 12 million people, at a time where we are suffering a national unemployment rate of 10 percent, would be an economic disaster,” Rosario said. “These reports show otherwise, and the fact that two ideologically very different organizations, the Center for American Progress and the self-described “libertarian” Cato Institute, reached the same conclusions is compelling, and can help our representatives make the case for reform to their constituents.”

Ithaca’s passage of a resolution for immigration reform comes at a time of renewed national pressure because of the recession forcing more workers to compete for jobs and more stress on the health care system.

“There is a very sizeable underclass in the U.S. who are in the shadows and do not feel free to exercise their rights because they feel that they can be deported at any given time …,” said Prof. Gustavo Flores-Macias, developmental sociology, who has studied migration in labor-exporting countries. “On a public health logic it is better for these people to feel comfortable to go to a hospital whenever they get sick because if not they will spread whatever illness they have.”

Other cities are now confronting the issue of immigration reform as well. The Santa Clara, Calif. City Council on Mar. 10 took a hard line against illegal immigration and voted to support seven bills that restrict immigrant rights, including requiring English to become the official language of the city. The Chicago City Council unanimously demanded on Mar. 10 that President Obama seriously address immigration reform. Like the City of Ithaca in 2007, the Chicago City Council has supported moratoriums on raids and deportations by local law officials.

Despite being smaller and less populated than these cities, Ithaca has, according to Rosario, a major stake in just and fair immigration system at the federal level.

“It is no coincidence that every administration faces this problem,” Flores-Macias said. “It is very contentious and during a recession it is even more contentious because people associate immigration with a lack of opportunities for people who are already in this country,” he said.

According to Flores-Macias, business sectors are generally in favor of reform so that they can use legal labor at lower wages. Human rights agencies also favor reforms on the basis that providing immigrants with special pathways to citizenship allows them to receive proper education and public health benefits that they otherwise would do without.

The Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition is organizing a phone campaign to call Representative Maurice Hinchey’s (D-N.Y.) office on St. Patrick’s Day and urge for comprehensive immigration reform. On Sunday, 10,000 New York residents will join 100,000 citizens on the Washington Mall in “March for America” to call for the passage of reform in Congress.

Original Author: Brynn Leopold