Frustration over Immigration Reform Builds as Congress, States Fail to Act

As immigration reform stalls in the U.S. Congress with little hope of any movement in the 2014 election year, immigration reform advocates have shifted tactics to both state-level legislation and broad grassroots activism to stop the narrow goal of deportation.

New York once appeared to be a national leader in immigration reform. Legislatures began to debate a Dream Act for the state as early as 2011. The same year, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended his state’s participation in a federal deportation program.

However, both these measures have languished in recent years, frustrating advocates in New York who hoped for more humane immigration policies at a state-level to counter the federal floundering.

First, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decided that states could not opt into the deportation program; they were required to allow federal agents to operate within state borders. New York has also struggled to get the Dream Act passed by the Senate.

The proposed bill would open state tuition programs to undocumented immigrants at both public and private colleges. Many of these children were brought into the country illegally by their parents, but have lived most of their lives in the U.S.; however, they were unable to access the state’s tuition benefits. This bill proposed to change this.

For the past two years, the bill has come before legislatures only to get stuck down in committees and political wrangling over the issue. This year brought a new hope to the bill as Cuomo endorsed it with strong support from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio as well.

The bill passed the State Assembly in February and headed to the Senate for a vote.

Once again, though, immigration reform advocates had their hopes dashed as the New York State Senate rejected the bill by a mere two voters.

Activists, who had hoped the bill would finally get the votes, were stunned. A spontaneous protest took to the streets in New York City by disappointed advocates for the bill. These groups promised that in spite of the defeat, they would continue to work for immigration reform.

It is no wonder, though, that advocates, frustrated with both the U.S. Congress and slow rate of state-level reforms are resorting to other tactics. Just this month, a #not1moredeportation campaign was launched which included protests across 40 U.S. cities asking Obama to suspend deportation.

These groups rallied in front of the White House, advocated to shut down Broadview Detention Center in Chicago, and marched to City Hall in Los Angeles to call on ICE to change its policies. Activists also took to social media, calling on Obama to be on the right side of history and support a “pro-human rights stance” on immigration reform.