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Fed Up with the Feds

By Megan Kinneyn | Mar. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Mar. 2, 2007

Fed Up with the Feds

With the federal government unable to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform package, local governments are making their own laws to fill the void. By Ron Donoho

By Ron Donoho
      Losing patience with Congress, local governments pass their own immigration laws.
      Longtime residents are fleeing Escondido, according to city council member Ed Gallo. Why? There are just too many illegal immigrants.
      "Illegal immigration causes overcrowding," Gallo argues. "Illegals have to stay under the radar. You wind up with multiple families living in one home. And the areas where they live become slums because residents won't complain."
      So last fall, the San Diego County community of about 140,000 became the first California city to attempt a ban on renting dwellings to illegal immigrants. Escondido is just one of a growing number of municipalities that are staring into the void that is the country's immigration policy and trying to tackle the resulting problems on a local basis.
      The preceding summer, neighboring Vista passed a law making it a crime to hire day laborers without first registering with the city. San Bernardino County tried to put a similar measure on its ballot last year, but it failed a city council vote.
      All told, some 60 local governments in more than 20 states have considered legislation to deal with problems blamed on the estimated 11 millionplus undocumented aliens in the United States. More than a dozen cities have approved similar measures.
      "It amazes me that some of these ordinances see the light of day," says Mark Ivener, a Los Angeles?based legal expert with 35 years in the field and author of Handbook of Immigration Law, Volumes I and II. "In my view, the whole area is preempted by federal law. I really don't know that cities have done their research and carved out safe ground. Basically, I feel these ordinances impermissibly force landlords to be the immigration officers enforcing federal harboring laws."
      As Escondido has found, though, the process of trying to enact such legislation is messy and polarizing. In October the Escondido City Council voted 3?2 to require landlords to ask renters for immigration papers. The ordinance provided that citizens could file a written complaint if they suspect a landlord is renting to an undocumented alien. Then two months later?after the ACLU sued?the city council did an abrupt about-face and rescinded its ordinance.
      Meanwhile, local politicians on the other side of the debate are also taking a stand. Last year Nick Inzunza, then mayor of National City, another San Diego County community, went on TV and declared his town a "sanctuary" city, meaning that no municipal money would be spent on enforcing national immigration policy. Then in December, Inzunza was replaced as mayor by former National City council member Ron Morrison, who called Inzunza's action "reckless."
      "The federal government needs to set [enforcement] policy, or the battle lines will grow deeper," says Morrison.
      That sentiment is echoed by Richard S. Rosenberg. A partner at the Los Angeles?based law firm Ballard, Rosenberg Golper & Savitt, he specializes in immigration law as it pertains to the workplace.
      "The laws on the books have been enforced with a wink and a nod for some time," he says. "A lot of industries were built on immigrant labor. Twenty years ago it was estimated we had 2 or 3 million illegal aliens living here?now it's 10 to 20 million."
      In the Reagan administration, the general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service was Maurice C. Inman Jr. Today he is the principal at Inman and Associates in Beverly Hills. He bemoans the current lack of federal enforcement.
      "George Herbert Walker Bush's administration transitioned from enforcement to ignoring the problem," says Inman. "Clinton's team was unaware of it, and there was no enforcement. And there's inactivity in Washington now. That's what Escondido and National City are showing us.
      "Maybe it will send a message to Congress to do something," Inman says. "But I think it shows that if nothing happens in Congress, we'll see more Escondidos taking place, and more states, like California, looking at taking action?even though [the legislation] we've seen in Escondido is probably unconstitutional."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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