Despite much media hype, the supposed wave of anti-immigrant politics has amounted to a few punitive laws in a handful of states, even as most states have quietly been moving forward with positive, integrative approaches to new immigrants in their communities.
As families in Iowa struggle to make ends meet, they are justified in feeling threatened when they see what were once good jobs turned into low-wage, sweatshop labor.
In industries across the country, workers are not receiving the wages owed them under minimum-wage and overtime laws. Earlier this decade, a U.S. Department of Labor report found that 60 percent of U.S. nursing homes routinely violated overtime, minimum-wage or child-labor laws. Other studies have found similar levels of violations in the garment and restaurant industries.
In Iowa, the minimum-wage and overtime laws have some of the weakest enforcement provisions of any state in the country. Penalties usually amount to no more than telling employers to pay what they originally owed their workers. Because legal action is so expensive and so likely to produce meager returns, few employees can afford to pursue claims. Because civil fines are so low, the state doesn't collect enough for strong, ongoing enforcement.
With many states having finished or well into their legislative
sessions, the story on immigration in the states is one of a few bad
bills passed, a lot of bad bills defeated and a few positive programs
In November, Progressive States Network launched our State Immigration Project
to support efforts by legislators and advocates to challenge
anti-immigrant policies and promote smarter, humane policy that would
address the concerns of voters.
Democratic activists and state lawmakers are working fast to make sure that illegal immigration is not an issue that can be used against them in elections next year, but the debate already is dogging some presidential candidates.
The Progressive States Network, a liberal advocacy and research group, released a strategy memorandum Thursday that outlines how Democrats can fight the outcry over illegal immigration in 2008. The paper urges Democratic candidates to emphasize the political and economic costs of aggressive anti-immigration proposals and to challenge attempts by Republicans to lump together the issues of illegal immigration and terrorism. The memo is part of the network's ongoing project to shape the immigration debate at the state level next year.
Forget the stalled debate in Congress. State legislatures are already
barreling ahead on immigration legislation. And the choices could not
be more stark.
While some states are embracing criminalizing undocumented
immigrants, other states are embracing progressive policies that will
boost wages for all American workers and solve the root causes of
The real fear by most Americans is that immigrants are driving down
wages for existing American workers. However, rather than further
punish exploited immigrant workers in the underground economy, many
state leaders recognize that a better solution is to end the exploitive
conditions that make hiring lower-paid immigrants so attractive for
employers in the first place.