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Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform: Could collective pressure for frustrated states see Congress spurred into action this January? Photo by: ILIR

New York act could fix state’s immigration reform issues without Washington’s help

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Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform: Could collective pressure for frustrated states see Congress spurred into action this January? Photo by: ILIR

Frustrated with the ongoing inaction of the House and Senate politicians have introduced the New York is Home Act, which could see a path to state citizenship for tax-paying, non-citizen residents

If successful this bill could see 2.7 million New Yorkers, including thousands of Irish, gain benefits such as the right to vote and eligibility for Medicad, as well as gaining human rights protections against discrimination based on their status.

It states: “This act will help ensure that all individuals who make New York State their home have the ability to pursue a brighter future and be able to fully participate in society.” (A full rundown of the bill is available here.)

This announcement comes at the end of another frustrating period on Capitol Hill when the House and Senate went on vacation without bringing forward a vote on reform despite the ongoing issues. These include the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border, where more than 57,000 Central American children have arrived unaccompanied, and mounting pressure for reform from the more than 11 million undocumented people who live, work and raise families in the United States. Included among them are up to 50,000 Irish undocumented.

The inaction in Washington DC means that three of the largest states – California, Texas and New York – are all searching for means to “take matters into their own hands”, writes Rebecca McCray on TakePart.com.

In New York, Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Karim Camara and their supporters introduced the New York is Home Act on Monday. If this act is passed it would see “a path to state citizenship for tax-paying non-citizen residents of New York who have lived in the state for three years and can provide proof of identity.”

Rivera said, “These are individuals who are contributing every single day, yet are not given the opportunity to fully participate in civic, economic, and political life.”

Daniel Coates, a lead organizer with the advocacy organization Make the Road New York said, “As opposed to asking what we can get from the government, we’re starting from a place of the power of what the immigrant community is already giving, and making a request from there.”

The new bill capitalizes on the similar but parallel concepts of federal and state citizenship.

Bronx-based Senator Rivera said, “We’re taking the concept of states’ rights and flipping it on its head. We’re saying if there is legislative authority that a state has that sits outside of the powers of the federal government as established by the constitution, we’re going to use it.”

Already in June 2014 New York City council voted in favor of the municipal ID program, 43 – 3. The New York Identity Card will give undocumented immigrants access to city services such as opening bank accounts and applying for driver's licenses.

In other states some rights have been extended to undocumented immigrants such as driver’s licenses and tuition assistance, but if the New York is Home Act were to go ahead it would be the most comprehensive of its kind.

Rivera says the bill is an extension of the well-tread relationship between states and their citizens, and their obligations to each other. If allowed these additional benefits from the state its citizens would then serve on juries, obey the laws of the state and continue to pay taxes.

Coastes added, “If [immigrants] are all of these things—neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and fellow community members—then the logical extension of that is the bill we’ve put forward.”

This bill is written as a blueprint for other frustrated states which they believe could also introduce similar bills in the coming months. Advocates hope that this kind of collective pressure would incite action in Congress.

In the coming months it will be Riviera’s role, along with the Make the Road New York and The Center for Popular Democracy, to keep the bill in the spotlight and help it gain support to push it through in January.

Rivera said, “The goal is not only to get it passed in New York, but to change the conversation at the national level about the responsibility of states to their residents.

“This is a way to acknowledge the real contributions of millions of individuals that are living in our state, and a way for real, progressive states to move in a positive direction in acknowledging these contributions and defending the rights of residents, regardless of their immigration status.”

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