Taking Local Control: Immigration Policy Activism in U.S. Cities and States

(distributed by Stanford University Press)
Edited by Monica Varsanyi
Published 2010, 320 pages, paperback

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With the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at an all-time high and Congressional immigration reform seemingly at a standstill, cities and states across the nation have leapt into the fray, creating a wide range of policies—some more controversial than others—to address illegal immigration within their jurisdictions. These policies, both anti- and pro-immigrant in nature, run the gamut. Some call for the involvement of city police in immigration enforcement, debates over day laborer markets, the establishment of employer sanctions laws, and the implementation of anti-immigrant ordinances. Other policies call for cities and states to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants, passing laws to extend locally-funded health care and social services, offer English language training, and improve wages and working conditions.

While these state and local immigration policies continue to receive wide coverage in the popular press, they have received very little attention in the scholarly literature. This volume aims to fill the gap by offering perspectives from political scientists, legal scholars, sociologists, and geographers at the leading edge of this emerging field. Drawing on high profile case studies, the contributors seek to explain the explosion in state and local immigration policy activism, account for the policies that have been considered and passed, and explore the tensions that have emerged within communities and between different levels of government.

This timely entrant into the study of state and local immigration policy also illuminates the significant challenges and opportunities of comprehensive immigration reform, highlights the range of issues at stake, and charts a future research agenda that will more deeply explore the impacts of these policies on immigrant communities.


“This timely and significant volume provides a very strong analysis of a political debate that is relevant today and will continue to be so for the seeable future. There is a great need for it.”—Rodolfo O. de la Garza, Eaton Professor of Administrative Law and Municipal Science, Department of Political Science, Columbia University

“This is the first collection to bring together scholars from the full spectrum of the social sciences to consider the novel challenge of state and local action relating to immigration. The contributions are refreshingly balanced, with many recognizing the integrative as well as exclusionary possibilities of immigration policy making on the ground. The breadth of approaches represented here will make this an invaluable resource for those interested in this important subject. The book will enhance our understanding of the new landscapes of immigration federalism.”—Peter Spiro, Charles Weiner Professor of Law, Temple University Law School


Preface / Wayne A. Cornelius

1. Immigration policy activism in U.S. states and cities: interdisciplinary perspectives / Monica W. Varsanyi

Section One: National Overview

2. Legal limits on immigration federalism / Cristina M. Rodrøguez, Muzaffar Chishti, and Kimberly Nortman

3. Immigration and local governments: inclusionary local policies in the era of state rescaling / Pablo A. Mitnik and Jessica Halpern-Finnerty

4. Partisanship, not Spanish: explaining municipal ordinances affecting undocumented immigrants / S. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Tom Wong

Section Two: From Devolution to the Grassroots

5. Immigration enforcement by state and local police: the impact on the enforcers and their communities / Michele Waslin

6. The public policy implications of state-level worksite migration enforcement: the experiences of Arizona, Mississippi, and Illinois / Marc Rosenblum and Leo Gorman

7. City ordinances as “immigration policing by proxy”: local governments and the regulation of undocumented day laborers / Monica W. Varsanyi

Section Three: Tracing the Evolution of Local Policy Activism

8. Neoliberalism, community development, and anti-immigrant backlash in Hazleton, Pennsylvania / Benjamin Fleury-Steiner and Jamie Longazel

9. Localized immigration policy: the view from a Charlotte, North Carolina, a new immigrant gateway / Owen Furuseth and Heather Smith

10. Growing pains: local response to recent immigrant settlement in suburban Washington DC / Jill H. Wilson, Audrey Singer, and Brooke DeRenzis

11. Local immigration policy and global ambitions in Vancouver and Phoenix / Doris Marie Provine

Section Four: Exploring Tensions at the Local Scale

12. All immigration politics is local: the day labor ordinance in Vista, California / Michael S. Danielson

13. The “law and order” foundation of local ordinances: a four locale study of Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Escondido, California; Farmers Branch, Texas; and Prince William County, Virginia / Jill Esbenshade, Benjamin Wright, Paul Cortopassi, Arthur Reed, and Jerry Flores

14. “Tired of illegals”: immigrant driver’s licenses, constituent letters, and shifting restrictionist discourse in California / Hinda Seif