Published on People Move

Who should manage immigration?: Local vs. federal level policy-making

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The failure of the federal government to reform US immigration policy during the past administration has left immigration policy-making to local municipalities.  A recent report by Audrey Singer, et al. of the Brookings Institution on "Immigrants, Politics, and Local Responses to Suburban Washington" illustrates how local officials in Prince William County, VA  responded to the growth of immigrants in their county over the past decade by creating "restrictionist" policies. 

Being a county that witnessed the tripling of their Hispanic population from 2000 to 2006, many long-time residents pressured the county government to crack down on "illegal" immigration by creating legislation without a public hearing to: (1) order the police to check the residency status of lawbreakers and (2) allow the county government to deny business licenses and certain social services to unauthorized immigrants.  Many long-term residents and county officials believe that they lack the infrastructure to support the new immigrant population, while many new immigrants of Prince William County feel that they are being discriminated against.

As the US enters into a deeper recession and if Congress and President Obama choses to delay immigration reform, we may see more local governments adopt "restrictionist" immigration policies.  Should the federal government allow local officials to create immigration policy?


Neil Ruiz

Senior Policy Analyst and Associate Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings

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