My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


These are strange days indeed. Chicago City Council is claiming the right not to enforce Federal laws, and I find myself hoping they can get away with it.

For most of the Twentieth Century, right wingers and racists trotted out old arguments about "states rights" and "nullification" that most people thought had been defeated, militarily, in the Civil War. Unable to control national centers of power, racists claimed that states had the power to disregard Federal laws in order to continue Jim Crow policies of segregation and discrimination at the state and local level. So throughout that time, enhanced Federal power was looked at as the liberal principle while state and local independence was considered to be a conservative principle.

Such "principles" of course being generally camoflage for self interest, it's interesting to see how quickly they seem to have flipped now that conservatives are firmly in control of Washington.

The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, severe legislation which would "turn illegal immigrants into felons and compel private individuals and employers to report them." In response, City Council has passed a law forbidding city employess, including police, to inquire about anyone's immigration status under most circumstances. This policy, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" for illegal immigrants, has been in place via executive order since shortly after Mayor Daley took office in 1989, but by formally passing it as law City Council is throwing up a challenge in the face of the Feds.
Daley's executive order states, "No agent or agency shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of citizenship or residency status of any person unless such an inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal regulation or court decision."
. . .
It further orders that city services, benefits and opportunities should not be "conditioned" on "matters related to citizenship or residency status" unless otherwise required by law.

In other words, the city plans on continuing to provide services to illegal aliens as much as it can, Federal policy be damned.

Basically, Federal demagoguery on the issue of immigration has run smack into economic reality on the ground. Ironically, many people in states without substantial immigrant populations are apparently quite terrified about waves of Latinos changing the face of the country and threatening their jobs. By contrast, cities like Chicago, struggling to maintain the momentum from the economic growth of the late 1990s, depend on immigrants to survive. Latinos were responsible for all of the population rebound the city saw in the 90s, and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Poland and elsewhere are essential to the health of industries such as food service and construction.

If we were to enforce immigration laws and expel residents who here illegally, the city would see a substantial population drop, widespread business closures, and something resembling a regional recession would occur. It appears to me that foreign workers are going to get a lot of jobs in a number of industries, and the real question is whether they will be working here, or in their home contries. I vote here, because we still get to tax the businesses that way.

[A friend who knows more about this than I do once told me that a real global economy would require free movement of capital, goods, and labor, and that a big problem with the system in practice is that capital and goods can move freely but labor is restricted. I'm not really sold on the free market neoliberal world, but his description of what's going on does seem to track with the news.]

The result of all this is that, as with environmental policy and gay and lesbian civil rights, liberals are using terms such as states' rights and home rule to justify breaking with federal policy on immigration.

It's not the first time. Before the Civil War, progressives could be found making these same arguments. In fact, in 1850, Chicago City Council and Mayor James Curtis took similar action, ordering Chicago Police not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. scary to think how far the wheel has come around.

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